TAMPA, Fla. (FOX 13) - It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but for some, it is the opposite.
Domestic violence victims are forced to hide the pain they go through during the holidays when everyone else is excited and planning trips to see family.
The very first holiday with her abuser was isolating for Courtney Weil, a domestic violence survivor. She said it was the longest two and a half years of her life. Weil escaped that darkness more than 25 years ago after getting herself and her children out.
“I made phone calls for months. I was pregnant with my daughter, and I was calling and calling. They were helping me make a safety plan,” said Weil, who was able to go to a shelter with her two young children at the time.
The holiday season is especially difficult for victims.
“You're standing out there, and you're putting a smile on your face. And you're trying so hard to be brave, to hide the bruises and whatever you're going through,” said Weil.
She recalls the first holiday she spent with her abuser.
“It was Thanksgiving, my very favorite holiday, and I was 9 months pregnant with my first child. I was not allowed to see my family. I couldn't call them. I couldn't talk to them. They couldn't come over,” said Weil. “It was the first time I ever didn't get to see my parents.”
Her youngest daughter Capriana Sanchez partially grew up in an abusive environment.
“I would dread going there and happy to go to my mom's or happy to go to school,” said Sanchez.
Sanchez said she saw and experienced abuse firsthand that was “emotionally and mentally abusive for sure and manipulative.”
Weil and her children talk about domestic violence with others, and Sanchez said she is no longer afraid to open up about the subject.
“I think it's very important to listen to kids. They need to watch how they react to certain things,” said Sanchez. She said children may shy away from certain individuals or situations, or they may saw blunt or surprising statements that should not be ignored.
Now, Sanchez and her siblings are all grown up, creating new memories and traditions and thankful for the time they have together free of fear.
“The holidays now, I spend time with family as much as I can. I think that's important and I think that she taught us that. What she likes to do when it came to holidays,” said Sanchez.
If you are in need of help call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.