ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Domestic violence continues to plague the Rockford community, but many times it is what people do not see that can negatively impact a survivor years after leaving a relationship.
One local mother said that her life was saved at rock bottom.
“It was terrifying,” said Tanya Legault.
Legault will never forget the moment that she now describes as her breaking point. The mother of three found herself in the emergency room, dehydrated, malnourished and overtired, drained by her emotionally abusive relationship.
“I’m sitting in the hospital, in the emergency room, and he called me and was cussing me out because I had left home and went to the hospital to get help,” Legault said. “He told me if I wasn’t home by the time he got home, he was going to take our son and I was never going to see him again.”
That is the moment that she recognized something had to change.
“Something just clicked, like, ‘yeah, this has got to stop,'” Legault said. “This is going to be really bad for me if I don’t get a hand on it. Finally taking those steps to say I’m leaving, that was the hardest.”
Domestic violence professionals said that leaving can be the biggest challenge. Someone goes through a cycle of violence seven or nine times on average before reaching out for a help.
“He had me so beat down, and mentally I didn’t think I was capable of doing it, because I was in such bad shape,” Lengault said. “Trying to see the light on the other side of being that sick at the time was really hard.”
A hospital social worker referred her to DEFY Domestic Abuse and Family Services in Beloit, according to Lengault. It was a call that changed her life.
“They helped give me a little bit of that boost that I needed,” Lengault said. “You know, ‘you’ve got this,’ you just have to get that initial, ‘put the stuff in the car and don’t think about it, just go.’ That’s pretty much what I ended up having to do.”
Stephanie Hormig was the first advocate counselor from DEFY to speak with Lengault. She remembers their initial meeting like it was yesterday.
“She brought her son, and we talked about the services,” Hormig said. “I had the paperwork, and I remember at one point pushing it over to the side, and just having a conversation. I think that’s really important for anybody who has gone through a trauma, is, ‘Okay, yes, I have this paperwork, but it’s not as important.’”
She added that it can be difficult to recognize emotional abuse.
“Emotional abuse doesn’t come with that physical punch, that bruise, that broken arm. Maybe that person they’re with says, ‘nobody is going to believe you. I don’t hit you, this isn’t abuse,’ but it is,” Hormig said. “It’s the internal punches, and the internal damage to the brain that happens. It’s a trauma.”
She said that trauma can stem from subtle attacks, such as gaslighting, constant criticism, threats and controlling behavior.
Lengault said that the agency has helped reignite the flame of a strength that had been lost for so long, and that her life has changed from the experience.
“Oh, wow. Sorry. Things are so much better. I don’t go home feeling scared,” Lengault said. “Looking back to how I was then, I could never imagine things would be as much better now as they are. Everything’s just fallen into place since we left. It’s just been amazing.”
Oftentimes in abusive relationships, people closest to the victim will recognize red flags and early warnings. So was the case for Lengault.
“My mom was a big one,” she said. “She had seen all the signs, and had seen the change in attitude, and the change in my health. She kept trying to say things are not right, you need to wake up and get out of this.”
Lengault does not know if she wishes that more people had something to say at the time.
“I don’t know, it’s really hard because until you get to the point where you’re done, I don’t know if I would’ve,” she said.
She hopes that her story will help other survivors gain the courage to seek help, and now knows that she was never fighting alone.
“It doesn’t matter what point you are in life, you can start over and make things the way that you want them,” Lengault said. “That’s been the best part is, it’s the way that I want it. It’s on my terms now. It’s what makes me happy now for the first time in forever.”
Lengault is now back in school, studying to get her degree in Human Services. She is also a bus driver and lost the fact that she gets to work with kids every day.
If you are a witness or a survivor of domestic or sexual violence, visit our Stateline Strong page for available resources.