Grief does not take a holiday – Abigail’s story

Abigail lost her freedom and almost her life to domestic violence. Today, she is a thriving college student, doting mother and a youth motivational speaker. Please consider a gift on so that all persons – like Abigail – can receive quality counseling services when they need it most. To donate, click image.

Abigail on surviving domestic violence: “The gunshot situation wasn’t that traumatic for me. What was traumatic was the abuse leading up to it.”

Abigail is a thirty-something college student and she’s getting straight A’s even though she’s recovering from a bullet wound to the head. She said it never occurred to her to go to school until her therapist at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center suggested it to her. She received an academic scholarship and started classes in 2015.

“After everything that happened, it was like my life started,” said Abigail.

If anyone ever was ready for higher learning, it’s Abigail. Even a brain injury couldn’t hold her back from excelling in hard-thinking courses including ethics, human biology, American government and creative writing. Her parents and her 8-year-old daughter fully support her educational pursuits.

But her physical recovery is just part of the story, maybe even the easiest part.

“The gunshot situation wasn’t that traumatic for me,” she said. What was traumatic was the abuse leading up to it.”

Abigail was shot by a person she used to call boyfriend, but now calls “monster.”

The perpetrator was sentenced a long prison term. In a way, it seems like a tidy resolution but domestic violence is complicated. It can occur in any relationship regardless of income, race, education, ethnic background, personal ability, sexual orientation, marital status or social standing.

By now you might be asking the classic question: Why did Abigail stay with her abuser? The experts say there are many reasons a person remains in a violent relationship. For Abigail it had to do with protecting her child and her parents. The abuser threatened to harm them if Abigail ended the relationship. She knew his sadistic capacities first hand, thus she believed his threats against her family. Determined to protect her loved ones, Abigail submitted to her abuser. Statistics suggest leaving a violent relationship can be life-threatening as the abuser becomes even more determined to maintain power and control over his victim. Maybe that is why Abigail’s abuser used his gun. He shot her in the head.


Miraculously, Abigail survived.

Her former boyfriend was sentenced to prison.

Abigail’s head-wound healed with nearly all brain capacities intact. But she felt constantly afraid and anxious, even with her abuser behind bars. She couldn’t sleep. She was connected to the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center through Polk County Crisis and Advocacy Services, a unit of the district attorney’s office. She said she saw her therapist two to three times a week at first, and continued for six months. She said counseling got her to a good place.

“I’d been in abusive relationships before and would just end up in another abusive relationship, and the men were getting worse and worse,” said Abigail. “I worked hard to make sure I never end up with one of those kinds of guys again, you know, and I’ve learned so much about myself through counseling.”

Abigail said her treatment included Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocess (EMDR) Therapy. This is an evidence-based treatment proven to be effective for the resolution of Post Traumatic Stress.


Abigail is a dreamer and a doer. She advocates for tougher laws on perpetrators of domestic violence. She intends to complete her Bachelor of Arts degree and has her eyes set on a master’s degree. She shares her story in motivational speeches to youth to educate about dating and break-up violence.

“I’m not saying that my story is any worse than others, but what happened to me was pretty bad and if I can take this and turn it around then hopefully it will inspire other people to make the best of their lives.” ~

Note: We’ve changed the client’s name and identifying details to preserve privacy. Photo is a stock image.


"Both Marsha and I believe in the healing power of counseling. That’s why we have decided to offer a $1,000 challenge grant for the #GivingTuesday campaign." ~ Ellery Duke

“Both Marsha and I believe in the healing power of counseling.” ~ Ellery Duke


Please consider a gift so that persons who are struggling with life’s challenges – like Abigail – can receive quality counseling services when they need them most. Grief does not take a holiday. Your donation will help people find a way to cope and could save a life. 


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