Building a new life can seem like a never-ending set of challenges, but for one beautiful singer, Interval House was in it for the long haul.
More than a decade ago, Denise Williams, better known to her fans in the vibrant world of Canadian and Jamaican Reggae music as “Empress Lyrics,” found a much-needed refuge at Interval House. The mother of two young sons, Denise felt trapped in an abusive relationship with the boys’ father. One day, while rehearsing for an upcoming gig with her band, her abuser burst in and hurled an industrial strength drain cleaner on her, one of her sons and other band members.
Despite painful third-degree burns, and desperate for safety for herself and her sons, Denise used a contact number she obtained from a victim’s hotline and made her final escape to Interval House. “Because of my injuries I was unable to keep my boys with me,” she recalls. “Thank God my parents were there to help.”
Denise spent the next three months putting her life back together with the help of the caring staff and a new sense of security at the shelter. She remembers being comforted by the structure and the schedules as well as the presence of monitors, alarms and cameras. “At that point I needed help with the simplest things, like filling out forms and getting bus tickets, not to mention getting counseling and finding housing. The staff were always there for me.”
Holidays are painful times for families escaping abuse. But Interval House did their best to make the Christmas season a time of joy and caring. Denise and her sons were added to a sponsorship list and given very special gifts. She remembers warm hoodies putting smiles on the boys’ faces and she received a brand new set of sheets for her bed.
As any woman escaping domestic abuse soon learns, rebuilding a life is an arduous journey, one that often brings setbacks and disappointments. Although Denise did escape her abuser, she did not escape so quickly the baggage from her past that had kept her with him. A sense of hopelessness and a lack of confidence in her own resources led her into major depression, keeping her from being the woman and mother she longed to be.
Even then, Interval House was there.
“Fazia [Mohammed, Client Services Coordinator with Interval House] continued to call me every month,” says Denise. “She encouraged me over and over to enroll in the B.E.S.S. program. She knew I needed skills that would help keep me moving ahead. People need to be reminded!”
Through her difficult bout with depression, Denise never let go of hope. She always sensed that her struggle was not without a purpose. Still, breaking the hold of depression was not easy.
After hitting what she admits was “rock bottom,” Denise answered Interval House’s challenge to take the next steps in the long road to healing. She was able to rise above her depression and is now gaining a continuing education that has helped her with self-presentation, resume skills, dressing for interviews and, most important, believing in herself. She looks forward to a course in financial management as well as others that will keep her progressing in her career and in her mission to help others.
Today, Denise is all about sharing a positive message with the world and with young women in particular. Many of her original lyrics spring from her personal experience with abuse and recovery — “Woman Scorned,” “Deadbeat Dad,” and “Never Keep Me Down” are some of her more recognizable songs.
Not surprisingly, songwriting has always been therapy for Denise. And unlike many in her industry, she has a commitment to keep her lyrics clean, uplifting and positive as an example and inspiration to those who share her struggles. More significant than any performances, competitions or music video is her sense that she has valuable work to do so young women will value themselves and avoid violent relationships.
Denise’s journey through domestic abuse and recovery has given her wisdom and insight as she helps others on the same road. She shares this advice with women who need to flee an abuser:
- Make a plan. Leaving is easier when you’ve worked out the details beforehand.
- Find support. Get the number of Interval House and keep it with you.
- Leave when things are quiet. Don’t wait for the next storm.
- Love yourself enough to leave. Don’t settle for less than you deserve.
- Don’t go back.