Survivor of Domestic Violence
Who I Am
I am a self-motivated, confident woman, who stands up for what is right. I never thought that I would end up in an abusive relationship.
I am also a person who gives and gives and forgives. Although these qualities are good, these are also the qualities that lead to me staying in an emotionally abusive and financially controlling relationship for 18 years.
But women are strong. I am strong. So no matter how many times I was pushed to my breaking point, I stood back up and kept going.
Sometimes I think abusive relationships should really come with a warning sign. You know, like the ones you read waiting in line for an amusement park ride. If my past relationship came with a warning sign, I imagine it would have went something like this:
Warning: I will drain you of your energy and of your strength. I will make you feel like you are nothing. I will make you feel crazy; like you are losing your mind most days. I will keep hold of our money and I will keep it from you. In my eyes I own you. My needs are the only needs that matter. I will use everyone you care about against you and make you feel hopeless.
Although there was no large, flashing sign to warn me about what I was getting into, now that I look back, I do see that there were some other signs that I did not notice at the time. Signs that indicated he did not respect me or my feelings. But I was young, naive and in love. And the abuse started out slowly – so slow that I didn’t even notice it beginning.
A Journey with Domestic Violence
I was only 16 when I met my ex-husband. Our relationship was always rocky and we broke up many times before getting engaged. But I was always drawn back by his charm and humour. My forgiving nature meant that I would let the past go, always hoping for a better tomorrow.
As we dated, I started to spend the majority of time with him and only him. My friends fell away and so during the times we broke up, I had no one.
Like I said before, there were signs that he did not respect me or my feelings. For example, he always ignored my plea to slow down while driving. He had terrible road rage and would weave in and out of cars, tail gating and yelling at people. I remember feeling terrified and asking him to stop, but instead he would speed up. Once I even opened the passenger door and threatened to jump out – I was so afraid that this actually seemed like a better option for a brief moment.
In addition to his actions, he would use his words to hurt me. He told me I didn’t know how to manage money and he would remind me that nothing I did ever worked out.
Once we were married and had children, he saw that I loved our kids more than anything. So then he began using them to hurt me. Calling me at work, telling me I was a bad mother and that I should be home with my kids. He told me that I was making him hate our children because he had to deal with their tears and bad moments.
The list goes on. There are countless ways he made me feel small. He would push me to my breaking point during arguments – I would explode and feel really bad about it later. When I was cleaning, he would point out all the spots I missed and he always reminded me that he contributed more financially towards our lifestyle than I did.
18 years I was with him.
And as you can probably imagine, after 18 years of feeling small, I was starting to lose myself.
I remember the day I said to myself, “either you lose yourself completely here or you leave and save the small piece of you that is left.”
But it took a long time to get to this point. It started with recognizing that I was in an abusive relationship.
It was 16 years before I connected the dots.
I clearly remember the moment when it clicked for me. I was at the mall with him and our children, where we spent the morning shopping for them. The kids were starting to get tired and I decided to get my own shopping done while they sat and ate some lunch.
I told my ex-husband I would meet him at a certain store. When I went to that store I quickly realized there was nothing there I liked, so I went across the hall to another store. While I was in line waiting to pay, I turned on my phone to find multiple messages. He was demanding to know where I was, saying that I better come out of the store I said I was going to.
For a second, I honestly was trying to figure out how I could sneak over to the other store without him seeing me so that I could make everything okay.
But I couldn’t. So I walked out and there he was with the look I had come to know far too well. The look that told me no matter what happened next, I could not do or say anything to avoid a fight or being labelled “the bad guy”.
He started going through my shopping bags, looked over my receipts and said I had to return everything I had purchased because it was not on sale. In that moment I felt like the world was moving in slow motion. The other shoppers walked past me and I stood there while my husband looked down at me, scanning my receipts with our children by his side. In that moment, everything finally came together.
I realized I was in an abusive relationship and I knew I needed to get out.
Moving Beyond Violence
After this realization, it took two more years for me to leave the relationship. During this time, the cycle of good-to-rocky-to-bad continued over and over again. Finally, I took to the door with what little I had and the hope that I would be free once I left.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t exactly the case. It was impossible to completely break the tie with him because we had children together.
So for a while the abuse continued. My ex would send me messages and emails. He texted and called my family and friends, using them as weapons against me. He also used our children as negotiation tools to get what he wanted.
During this time I used the outreach services provided by Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region. I went for counselling and took courses in communication, all while navigating through the court system.
Through this process I learned that in the past, I hadn’t been doing what I truly needed to help myself. I spun in the cycle of abuse for so many years that it became ingrained deep within my muscle memory. But after falling and getting back up so many times I had to realize what I needed to do for myself. I had to let go.
I had to stop engaging. I had to walk away and let him spin in his own cycle. He would never change, no matter how much time passed. So I had to change. I had to continue to work on me and move forward.
My Life as a Survivor
I have been out of that relationship now for almost 6 years and officially divorced for 5 years. To this day, there are still many challenges. But I have walked away and no longer engage – so in his cycle there is no one left to blame.
I opened my own business which is doing very well. I also own my own home. I have even written my first book coming out February 2020 called Behind the Mask, A glimpse of emotional abuse and dealing with a narcissist. I am a motivational speaker and hope to use my book to help others going through emotional abuse and financial control.
I choose to have my children in their father’s life because they love him and their relationship with him is not mine. I make boundaries for myself each day when dealing with my ex. My journey with him is ongoing until our children are adults, but my involvement with him is absent and I am in a much better place.
I Am Your Neighbour
I hope by sharing my story I can shine a light on domestic violence and open the door to conversation.
Emotional abuse is not something you can always see. Those who appear to be strong can be hurting so badly inside, holding onto a secret so deep that the thought of letting it out eats away at them. The thought of escaping seems impossible.
Not everything is simple.
It is not easy to leave an abusive relationship. And when you do leave, things don’t get better overnight. I know this because I went through it. I have been broken and put back together more times than I can count. But knowing that I am strong, resilient and by making the choice every day to not engage, I am free.
Doing the work to break free of the cycle of abuse has saved who I am. I feel whole again. I feel strong and I am proud that I am where I am today.
*Please note that some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the safety and privacy of individuals in the story.