TAMPA, Fla. — October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and for one Tampa Bay area mom, it’s also a reminder of the strength it took to get out of her own domestic abuse situation and a celebration of the success she’s experienced since.
Courtney Weil says this year marks 30 years since she finally left the father of her two girls.
“I told my first daughter that she’s what kept me living because I couldn’t leave her alone with him. I told my second daughter she gave me the courage to get out.”
Weil says in her case like for so many others, the abuse grew over time.
"The violence started mental, a little sexual and definitely financial but the physical didn't happen until I was 9 months pregnant with my first child."
She says “he came home late on a day I was supposed to have a doctor’s appointment, and when I complained that we were going to be late for my doctor’s appointment, in the morning, because he had been out all night, he beat my face until it was black and blue."
Weil says she felt even more alone after no one acknowledged the bruises. “Nobody said anything. Not one doctor or nurse, no one said anything but no one did back then, 30 years ago.”
After a first attempt to leave her abuser, and another baby, Weil says a friend at work put her in touch with The Spring of Tampa Bay, a domestic violence center serving Hillsborough County.
“It became my lifeline. I would take a break at work, and this was the days of payphones, and I’d take my break and I would go into the hallway at work and I would pick up the phone and call.”
The voices on the other end of those calls helped her prepare to leave, and find the strength to do it. Weil says her boyfriend came home drunk one final night, beat her, and passed out and she decided to make a run for it with her girls.
"We went out a window in the middle of the night and we ran to my mom and dad's house and my mom and dad said, ‘you're safe here, we'll put the car in the garage’ and I said ‘no we're not, he'll be here in the morning. The first place he'll be, the first thing he'll do is be here,’ and so we called The Spring, the hotline in the middle of the night and we went to the sheriff's department and they took us in."
Weil says for the first time she felt safe and like she had options.
“The minute you know you have a support system, the minute you know that there are people who have been through this and they understand and can help you, everything changes. You see a light at the end of the tunnel. You feel hope. You feel like, I’m not alone. It’s not my fault. I couldn’t have made this any better, I didn’t deserve this and those things are huge,” Weil explains.
It was the turning point she needed for a beautiful new beginning. Weil is now the mom of three, her two daughters and a son, and the wife of a loving husband.
"I'm happily married, [it's] actually our anniversary is next month, it'll be our 9-year anniversary. He loves me, I mean he calls me his queen, which I never felt like a queen or princess or anything special like that before and so it's so beautiful to be truly loved and loved in a really healthy way."
Weil says her life is filled with joy and she and her family make a point of sharing that joy and gratitude with others. Weil is the proud owner of a restaurant called Courtney’s Café and a catering company as well. Each year, during October, she collects cereal to donate to the kids at The Spring.
“My children know they’re valuable, they know they’re important,” and Weil says she wants other kids to feel the same.
She says the cereal gives them something that’s comforting during what is no doubt a stressful and uncertain time.
You can drop boxes off at Courtney’s Café on Florida Avenue or Tampa Elks Lodge 708 at 3616 West Gandy Boulevard through the end of the month.
If you or a loved one are being victimized by domestic abuse, the National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached 24/7 at 800-799-7233. The Spring of Tampa Bay's 24-hour crisis hotline can be reached by calling or texting 813-247-SAFE or 813-248-1050.