Carla Castillo, a former participant in the Family Tree Parenting Time Program, recently shared her story of experiencing cycles of domestic violence, becoming empowered to make a change and how Family Tree helped her family find stability.
Growing up in Lakewood, I lived a very happy childhood, attended private Catholic schools and was very sheltered. I thought all people were good and never thought people would have bad intentions. I was naive.
High school was when I had my first eye-opening moment and realized how terrible people can be. I was assaulted at the young age of 15. As if this wasn’t bad enough, I had no support from my family during this troubling time and was told it was my fault. This was traumatizing as such a young girl. This led to a series of wrong choices in relationships due to the feeling of, “I guess this is what I deserve.”
At 19-years old, I found myself in a physically, verbally and emotionally abusive relationship. Luckily, I had the support from family to leave. The only good thing to come out of that relationship is my beautiful 17-year old daughter Claudia.
Shortly after that, I found myself in another verbally abusive and controlling relationship. I was blinded to the signs, again thinking everyone has good intentions. In 2005, I became pregnant. Once I was pregnant, he became more controlling and manipulative. He wouldn’t ever let me leave our home alone. When home, he would have someone from his family watch me. When the baby was born, I decided to leave. When I told him I was leaving, he got violent and used abusive behaviors. He kept our son from me, using him as a tool to continue to control me. It took me two weeks to convince him to let me have our son for a night. During that time, he continuously threatened me that I would not see our son unless I was doing as he asked.
Thankfully, I called a safe house for advice and help. They coached me on what to say to him. It worked. I safely got myself and my baby out of the abusive environment and from there I went to the safe house. With help from the safe house and my lawyer, I sought out an order for protection, which kept me safe. I remember being so scared the first time being in the same room as him that day at court. I was shaking in the elevator. My lawyer turned to me and said, “Today you will feel so empowered,” and she was right. I was able to face him and move forward with a plan that protected both my son and myself.
At that time the judge ordered us to start using the Family Tree Parenting Time Program at the Karlis Family Center. This program provides a safe environment for children to spend quality time with their non-residential parent through supervised visits, off-site visits, and safe exchanges of the children between parents. My ex-husband and I participated in this program for six years. The volunteers at the Family Tree Karlis Center became like family. My son would be so excited to go there and have fun and play with the volunteers. It made our exchanges very positive along with a time for him to unwind during the transition from one home to the other. During those six years, my former husband sought guidance that resulted in him choosing non-abusive behaviors.
Although we continue to live separate from one another, we co-parent our child in a caring, nurturing way, and communicate positively with each other. I don’t think this would have been possible without the Family Tree Parenting Time Program safe exchanges and our now 13 year old would not have the continued and growing relationship with his dad that they both need.
In addition to the Family Tree Parenting Time Program, having left my home quickly, I had few possessions for my new life on my own. I accessed Family Tree Treasure Trunk thrift store for clothing, household items, and baby supplies. As a family tree client, I received gift certificates that covered most of these costs. I was grateful.
Today, I am happy to say I am now in a very loving and healthy marriage with five beautiful children. I have a successful real estate business with Re/Max Northwest. I recently reached out to Family Tree to volunteer my time and to donate a percentage of my sales back to Family Tree because I have experienced firsthand the impact of these programs. I am currently hosting a paper goods drive for them that I am very excited about.
Family Tree was there for me when I needed support. And Family Tree is there for thousands of women, men, and families when they need support to become safe, strong, and self-reliant.