Volunteer of the week/Tara Smith, DASAS

Published 10:31 am Friday, June 21, 2013

Tara Smith considers it an “honor” to volunteer for Domestic and Sexual Abuse Services (DASAS).

Tara Smith

Tara Smith

Here’s why.

The Marcellus mother of three is paying forward the help and comfort DASAS provided when she was victimized.

“They taught me the skills to be a healthy, independent woman,” she said.

At 15, Smith met a guy. Her teen-age “mentality told me I was in love. Far from it. It was a dysfunctional relationship full of destruction, chaos and hate. Before I knew it, big dreams I had for my life vanished.”

“My life became wrapped around this man,” Smith said. “I was isolated from my family and friends at school.” Then he introduced her to methamphetamine.

She became addicted, helping him exert power and control over her.

“His moods were very unpredictable,” she said. “His anger was intense. He didn’t hold anything back during his violent tantrums. I was abused physically, mentally, sexually and economically. I heard him tell his friends often, ‘It’s best to get a younger girl and train her the way you want her.’ I attempted to leave many times, but I always went back. I was afraid to leave and afraid to stay.”

She married the father of her two children.

“I was miserable,” Smith said. “I hated my life and who I had become. We decided to move to Florida to get away from the drugs. While in Florida, we did stop using drugs, but the violence didn’t stop. In fact, it was harder to deal with the violence without the numbing effect of meth. I became pregnant with our third child. We decided to move back to Michigan. I went to work as a CNA (certified nursing assistant) because I was responsible to pay bills and support myself and the children. He made it clear he wouldn’t be a babysitter for me and that I wouldn’t leach off him all my life.

“I felt worthless, hopeless,” Smith said. “Depression engulfed me. I had three beautiful children who weren’t free to be children because we had to tiptoe around this man all the time. You could feel the tension in our home when it was time for him to come home. We didn’t know what we would say or do next to set him off — and it didn’t take much to set him off. Nothing we did was ever good enough.”

Smith decided to go back to school in hopes of changing her situation.

Accepted into the nursing program at Southwestern Michigan College, abuse worsened.

“He made sure I wasn’t proud of myself or too confident,” she said. “In his opinion, any victory I did have was due to my cheating or sleeping my way to gaining it. He had to work really hard to crush my spirits this time, though. I packed up and left with my new strength, hope and confidence, but I just could not seem to break that bond. He asked me out to the bar and gave me a ride. Everything inside told me not to go alone with him, but I went against my gut instinct. The night ended with him pulling into a field, pulling me out of his truck and choking me until I passed out. He told me how easy it would be for him to kill me, hide my body and nobody would know or care. I begged him for my life.”

Then “the strangest thing happened.”

He burst into tears, apologized profusely, professed his love and pleaded with her to leave school, quit work and stay home with him and the children.

When she reached her mother’s, she called police “for the first time ever.”

“I didn’t think I needed DASAS,” Smith said, “but I started making poor choices, going to the bar a lot and using meth a lot. My children were removed by CPS (Child Protective Services). I was linked with an angel. She was such a beautiful woman with a huge heart. She had so much compassion and taught me so much. She taught me that I have rights that need to be respected, boundaries to protect me and my children, red flags to look for and that healthy relationships are possible.”

Today, Smith is “not that same woman I was five years ago. I’m free of violence. I have an awesome job, I’m a healthy mom to my three kids, I have an awesome, healthy marriage to a man who supports me and respects my rights. He’s my biggest encourager and my biggest cheerleader in life. I’m so thankful to DASAS for teaching me that I’m worth a healthy life and a healthy marriage.”