October 14, 2020

A Survivor’s Story – Teresa

The Moments That Shape Fulfillment

The Below Reflections Were Written By Teresa Dixon, A YWCA Spokane Team Member Who Once Was A Client Staying At Our Safe Shelter

In 2008, when my children and I lived in the YWCA safe shelter, I was overwhelmed with feelings of anger, fear and shame. 

Teresa Dixon

How had things come to this? My mind played the question over and over like a mantra adding fuel to my shame.   This shame so overwhelmed me that every moment was filled with excuses to leave the space meant to protect us.  And I grabbed at these excuses.  We spent endless hours at parks, wandering grocery stores or watching movies cooped up in my mom’s tiny apartment, and would return to the shelter in the evening for dinner and bedtime since it was the only place we had to lay our tired heads.  All this so I could avoid the shame and fear that hounded me.

My Lesson Of Surrender

At some point, I got tired of the endless running way and learned what I call “My Lesson of Surrender”.  I shifted from believing the constant negative refrain about our circumstances that was driving me away from safety and began to lean in and stay put with what was real.  We were fleeing violence.  We were homeless. I was afraid.  This shelter was our home.  Instead of dwelling on our instability and homelessness, I allowed myself to believe the shelter was home, despite it being temporary.

We began to treat the space like a real home, cooking and eating our meals in the communal kitchen and dining room, playing games in the open grassy spaces of the yard and just hanging out, together.  Over time I even began forming friendships with other women staying at the shelter and our children would play while we chatted.  Hard as it was, I surrendered my spirit to the truth of my circumstances rather than pushing against it.  As a result, I can look back on my two and a half months living in the shelter as a life changing and affirming experience.  I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t want to go through this experience again, but it truly has taught me some of my most powerful life lessons regarding the nature of suffering and the healing power of surrender, and these lessons have informed my relationship to life ever since.  The small shift in my attitude toward our circumstances was a moment of rediscovering the self I thought I had lost over the years of abuse and one of many moments of realizing my personal power.

From Moment To Moment

Often we think of self-actualization as a singular outstanding moment, an arrival of sorts, where we achieve the goal, vanquish the enemy, or complete the journey.  But as human beings, we are too complex and interesting to have our brightness limited to a few remarkable moments.  When we so narrowly define self-actualization it can leave many of us wondering if we will ever amount to anything at all because our lives are so “ordinary” or, as I thought, life is such a mess.  But, if we are willing to look at self-actualization as what happens in the ongoing, moment-to-moment decisions, and recognize that these are our connection with our higher truth, the way in which we come to live out our values, no matter where we find ourselves along our path, we can recognize our experiences of self-actualization.  Even in our ordinariness.  Even in our messy lives.  Even living in a shelter.

For me this happened when I got real about my fear and shame and disappointment about where life had brought me.   It happened the moment I stopped running away and said, “Ok, this is my home. For now.”   It continued in all the subsequent decisions I made each day moving forward.  What I did was connect with the values of peace, stability and joy that I wanted to guide my family’s experience of life.  Our circumstances were still dire, we were still homeless, broke and uncertain about our future AND, even in that difficult reality, there was fulfillment.


Self-actualization is defined as “the realization or fulfillment of one’s talents and potentialities, especially considered as a drive or need present in everyone,” and it happens in all the small choices we make from moment to moment, day by day, that are guided by our values; even when we are not conscious of those values, they are still there guiding us. It takes courage to end a relationship of any kind and this is especially true when there has been violence, when we have been harmed by someone we love. The decision to end it is fraught with so many uphill battles that when we finally take the shaky first steps toward freedom, personal power, self-renewal and hope, when we begin to believe in a future guided by our truth rather than fear and shame, this is the true fulfillment of possibility, this is self-actualization.

YWCA Spokane Learn & Give Challenge

Teresa provided this reflection on her experience as part of YWCA Spokane’s Learn & Give Challenge offered during Domestic Violence Action Month. The Challenge takes a deeper look at domestic violence through the lens of Maslow’s expression of human needs.

ONE MISSION | The Challenge | Learn | Give | Intersectionality | Physiological | Safety | Love & Belonging | Esteem | Self-Actualization

By: Erica Schreiber

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