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Student spotlight: Deborah Fetherland

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Deborah Fetherland’s path to attending the University of South Alabama began at the University of Kentucky in the 1980s, when she decided to leave UK for a hitchhiking journey across the country with her partner, much to her parents horror.

Fetherland’s partner will be called Chad, to protect his identity.

Chad initially did not want Fetherland to hitchhike with him. Fetherland, who had never slept outside before, resolved to join him.

“The one thing you don’t tell me is ‘no,’” Fetherland said about her decision to join Chad.

The hitchhiking trip spanned from Kentucky to California and lasted from May to August 1982.

Fetherland does not recommend others hitchhike.

“I wouldn’t do it, and probably if my children tried to do it, I’d kick their ass,” Fetherland said.

Fetherland and Chad ended the trip by settling to stay in Mobile with his friends. They had two sons, but their relationship became abusive as Chad descended into alcoholism, according to Fetherland.

“He was not always horrible,” Fetherland said. “The alcohol did him in. I think the more he was controlled by it, the more he wanted to control me.”

Fetherland knew it was time to end the relationship after she survived a car accident while Chad was driving.

“I ended up using a wheelchair and walker for six weeks and it was then that I decided that I didn’t like him enough to let him kill me,” Fetherland said. “He refused to take responsibility and he refused to admit he had a problem with alcohol. I did everything I could to drive him off.”

Several weeks after the accident, the couple split up permanently.

“When he left, he said, ‘you’ll never survive without me, bitch,’” Fetherland said. “ The first thing in my head, I went ‘oh yeah? Just watch me.’”

Restarting her life as a single mother wasn’t easy, but Fetherland says it was worth it to no longer be in an abusive situation.

“I’ve made mistakes and I’ve struggled, but at the end of the day, I go home and I can be in my home and I don’t have to worry about what’s coming through that door,” Fetherland said. “What kind of day they had and what they’re going to do to me. No one should have to put up with that. ere are people out there who can help you. You just have to say ‘something’s wrong, I need help and people will help you.’”

Fetherland encourages people in abusive situations to remove themselves from that situation and ask for help.

“Get out,” Fetherland said. “You don’t have to stay. It is scary and people who know me, they say they can’t imagine that I would have put up with it [being abused], but you’re in a situation where this person [the abuser] is your mirror. ey become the only way you see yourself, is what they tell you, you start to believe. that’s not true. It’s not easy. It’s really hard, but it’s not as hard as putting up with that day after day.”

After leaving Chad, Fetherland knew she had to nd a job capable of supporting two children with. She found employment with a company that made marketing and promotional products who took a chance on her, Fetherland says.

She eventually le to create her own company, Plan B Marketing, selling marketing and promotional products to customers nationwide.

While maintaining her business, Fetherland was hired by the USA College of Medicine’s admissions department. Fetherland was able to return to school, thanks tuition assistance, a benefit of being a USA employee. She is currently scheduled to graduate in December 2019.

Although Fetherland has survived, her ex-husband did not. Chad’s alcohol abuse issues became worse a er they split, according to Fetherland. He ultimately died of cancer in 2010.

For help leaving an abusive situation, visit thehotline.org.

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Student spotlight: Deborah Fetherland