Updated: Jan 8
As we move into a new year, I have reflected on my journey and how I got to where I am today. Today I am a Coach, Root-Cause Therapy Practitioner, Neurolinguistics Programming Practitioner, and a Clinical Trauma Professional. Those are my Professional titles. I am also a wife and mother to one teen and three adult children living in rural Saskatchewan. Life for me has been pretty good, but I remember when that wasn't the case. I was married to my first husband, abused, scared, and feeling very small. I was confused and hurt. I wanted out but was not sure how to do it. I felt like I was drowning. I was sure if I didn't get out, he would kill me.
We met in December 1995 through friends. I fell for him right away. He was literally tall, dark, and handsome. Quiet too. I wanted to "unlock this box" and get to know the man underneath. We started to date within days of meeting each other, and I was so sure I had found "the one." The abuse did not start right away. If it had, I would have left right then and there. No, the abuse was slow, and I didn't sense that something was "off" until about a year or two into the relationship. I noticed that he spoke to myself and his mom differently than he did to others. There was a sharpness in his voice, a gruffness in his nature that said, "don't cross me." There was always a wall between us that he rarely ever let down. I was empathetic when I learned that it was there because he had been abused as a child. He had also had many people leave his life, one being his dad, who died suddenly when my ex was 18 yrs old. There were others, family members who kept their distance. I thought it was because they were cold and callous, and I told him I would never leave him. I would be the dependable one. He could count on me. In doing that, I told myself that when he started having angry outbursts around me that I couldn't leave. I couldn't be like the others. I had to stick by my word.
After dating for three years, we decided to move in together. I was so excited to share my life with him on this level. We rented a cute two-bedroom house near downtown Saskatoon. It was the perfect spot, halfway between where we each worked. On the outside, everything was going well. I told myself that I was managing his moods well and that he was more susceptible to bad days than other guys, so I had to be understanding of that.
Then it happened.
For the first time, he physically abused me.
It was a Saturday morning, and he was in the kitchen making us omelets for breakfast. He asked me if I wanted onions in my omelet. I thought it was odd for him to ask me this because he knew that I did not like onions in anything. I shrugged it off and told him that, no, I did not want onions. He then started to yell and threw the frying pan at me. It did not hit me; thankfully, it hit the floor before reaching me. As the omelet ingredients spilled all over the floor, I looked at him, bewildered. What was happening? I froze in my spot, trying to comprehend what was happening. He had yelled at me before and stormed off but never had he thrown something at me and yelled like this. I was so confused and desperately wanted to bring peace to this situation. He turned and marched through our dining room into our living room. I caught up to him, tried to reach for him, asking him what was wrong, but he moved away from my touch and walked straight into our spare room, continuing to yell at me, telling me to shut up or he would slap my mouth shut! As he went to slam the bedroom door in my face, I put my right hand up and, in the process, got my fingers caught in the door. I started to scream due to the pain. I yelled that my fingers were caught in the door. Upon hearing that he started to push heavily on the door, I screamed more, begging him to stop. He eventually did by opening the door, storming past me, and out the back door. I looked down at my right hand as I cradled it in my left hand. My middle finger had a large gash, almost down to the bone, on my upper knuckle. In my shocked state, I felt no pain but did notice that I was bleeding quite a bit. I turned and went into the bathroom; grabbing a towel, I did my best to stop the bleeding; I knew I needed stitches, but that meant a trip to the ER, and how could I admit to a doctor what had happened? I was full of shame. I should have known better than to follow him, was my thought. I wrapped my finger tightly in gauze, doing my best to hold the wound closed. I was not going to go to the ER. I was not going to experience that shame.
I had to change the gauze quite a few times before he came home. By the time he returned, I had the bleeding under control. He walked in, looked at my hand, said nothing, and went into our room, closing the door behind him. I let him go. I wanted to talk about what happened,, but I had just learned what he would do if I did push this so I stayed in the living room wondering how we would get through this.
We got through it by never talking about it. That was how he dealt with issues. He would sweep it under the rug, pretending that it never happened. He would say, "Why bring up an issue? We will get upset again. Just let it go." I knew that not talking about our issues did not help our relationship, but in this case, I was scared to bring it up. I woke the next morning with swollen and bruised fingers. I knew I wouldn't be going to work on Monday. I worked in the office of a Telecommunications Company, and I typed all day long. There was no way I would be able to do my job. I also did not want to answer any questions about my injury to my coworkers. I knew they would want to know what had happened. I realized that I couldn't tell anyone about how my finger got hurt, which was confirmed later that day. It was Sunday now, and his mom came over for a visit. She saw my fingers, gasped, and asked me what had happened. For a moment, I paused; what do I say? Maybe I should tell the truth? It was then that I saw my ex looming in the doorway between our kitchen and our dining room. I looked at him, and I was met with an icy, stone, cold glare. I knew then that if I spoke the truth, I would suffer the consequences. I swallowed and mumbled something to her about getting my fingers caught in the door, that it was an accident. Never did I tell her that her son had done this. Once I spit out my lie, I saw him, out of the corner of my eye, leave the doorway entrance. At that moment, I told him I would lie for him and that he could abuse me.
He didn't physically abuse me for another six years, but there was frequent verbal, financial and emotional abuse. In that six years, we bought a house, had our first baby, got married, and were now expecting our second baby. It was during this pregnancy that the abuse started to escalate. I kept telling myself that it was because he was stressed and having a bad day. I honoured my commitment to him, not just the ones we had said in a church but the one I had told him when we were first dating, that I would never leave him.
During my second pregnancy, I had a lot of "falls." After each one, I would call my doctor in a panic. Never telling her the truth, just saying that I had tripped. Each time, thankfully, the baby was OK, but I was stressed throughout the pregnancy. It was mid-pregnancy when I had a "fall" down our basement stairs. We were both going to the basement, and he, was behind me when I felt his hands on my shoulders giving me a push. As I was pushed, my feet slid out from underneath me,, and I fell down the basement stairs, riding down them on my behind, and I landed on the landing with a thud. I tried to stand up but I could not see. When I opened my eyes, all I could see was darkness and stars. I fell back onto the landing and called out to him. I could hear his footsteps going back to the living room. I continued to yell for him, and as I did he kept turning the TV up louder and louder. I was starting to realize he was not going to help me. I protectively put my hand on my growing belly and told my baby that 'Mommy has got this. We will be ok.' I started to take some deep breaths to slow down my racing heart and let my body shake out the adrenalin that was pumping through me. I am not sure how long I saw there listening to the blaring TV, but eventually my eyesight returned, and I crawled my way back up the stairs and continued crawling over to our kitchen landline phone. I raised my voice a bit, asking him to turn down the TV which he surprisingly did. I then called my doctor's answering service and waited for her to call me back. I was terrified. What if something had happened to my baby? I had done my best not to let my belly hit anything while I fell down the stairs. As I sat there, swimming in my thoughts, the phone rang. It was my doctor. I answered and told her that I had fallen again, this time down my basement stairs. I shared my worries about the baby, and she eased my concerns by saying that if I felt movement and there was no cramping or bleeding, the baby was OK. I did feel movement, and there was no cramping or bleeding. I hung up with her feeling a bit better about my baby. As for him pushing me, I hadn't even begun to process what he had done. Instead of dwelling on that, I went to our bedroom without saying a word to him, and I went to sleep.
It was shortly after this fall down the stairs that my doctor called me at work, asking if I could come into her office alone. Concerned, I left work and made my way to her office. Once, I was in an exam room, and she came in and started to share her concerns about my "falls," especially this last one, and she asked me if my ex was abusing me. I was taken aback. This was not abuse; he was struggling with stress and taking it out on me. I told her that my falls were just because I was clumsy and I was not being abused, and I thanked her for her concern and left.
That December, we had a healthy baby girl, and two years later, we had a son. The abuse had continued. It was always followed by a period of calmness that restored my faith in our relationship. Now there were rumors of him cheating on me. With three kids, debts, and my pride, I could not end this marriage. Instead, we moved communities and bought a house in his hometown. His family surrounded us. I thought this would be a good thing for us as a couple and for our children. I thought that maybe with more family around, he would be less abusive, but I was wrong. Instead, it continued to escalate and his family, who witnessed some of it, turned a blind eye. All of them had abused their kids and spouses, so if they spoke up for me, they would have to hold themselves accountable. I was drowning with bystanders just out of reach, not willing to throw me a lifesaver. My hair was falling out due to the stress; I was well below 100 lbs. in weight, I couldn't focus on my job, and I rarely slept because he had escalated the abuse to raping me at least once a week. He was also physically abusing our toddler son and my daughters...he was hurting them, too, in ways that are so hard to talk about.
I was beginning to realize that no one was going to save me. I had to save myself and my kids. I was standing in the bathroom one day, looking at myself in the mirror. I did not recognize this woman looking back at me. Her eyes were dark and sunken in, her cheeks were hollow, and her hair was limp and stringy. Who was this woman? She looked like a haunted wisp of a ghost. I knew then that I was dying, and if I did not change something quickly, I wouldn't be here to protect my children. It was then that I secretly started to reach out. I spoke to my manager at work, and he let me go to counselling during work hours, so my husband did not know. I confided in a co-worker about what was happening at home. We went for daily walks at lunch, and for the first time, I had someone who listened. I reached out to old friends via my work email so that he wouldn't know, and I slowly built my support system, self-esteem, and confidence. I also, for the first time, confided in my family.
As I became stronger, I filed reports with the RCMP. My ex was arrested twice, once for assaulting our toddler son (he pled guilty) and me. He was removed from the house, and an emergency no-contact order was placed. He was arrested a second time after our separation for continual sexual assault. He pled not guilty, and we went to trial. I was on the stand for three and a half days. He was on the stand for ten minutes. In my three and half days on the stand, his lawyer made the abuse out to be my fault. I was victim-blamed for everything. I fought hard with my testimony, but in the end, it was all hearsay (which most sexual assaults are because there are no witnesses), and the jury said there was not enough evidence to convict. He was found not guilty. As I stood there with silent tears streaming down my face, the Judge told me that this was not a situation where I was not believed, but there was not enough hard evidence to convict.
I left the courthouse in a daze and fell apart that evening after; I will admit, a few glasses of wine. I wailed and let out all the pain our years together had brought me. I completely fell apart. It felt like my soul had been broken. The next morning I woke up knowing I had three children depending on me. The Criminal Trial was over, but our battle in Family Court had just begun. I sought a divorce, sole custody of our kids, and a restraining order. It took another year for that trial to happen. This trial was much shorter because he did not show up. He told the Judge that he had to work. My witnesses; our family doctor, my kid's counselor, and a social worker who had done home visits for the Court testified. They all agreed that I should have sole custody testifying to the damage abuse does to a child's development. It was recommended to the Judge that my ex have no access to our children until they were 25 years old because by then their brains would be fully developed and it could no longer be damaged by his abuse. It would then be up to the adult child to decide if they wanted contact with him. If the Judge agreed, this would be a precedent-setting case because never before had a child's brain development and how it is affected by abuse been taken into account when deciding custody. Before our case, the norm had been shared parenting time between both parents, even if abuse was reported. The Judge agreed to this recommendation and granted me my divorce, sole custody, and a lifetime restraining order.
In the words of our Judge, Honourable Judge J Wilson,
“This is a disturbing case of violence against a woman and her children occurring over the course of a 13-year relationship. The three children of the relationship witnessed being physically assaulted and humiliated by their father. The youngest child was subjected to physical abuse starting at the age of 16 months. The father desires access with the children. He will have no access”
We won! The kids and I were finally free. We were free of the abuse, the yelling, the threats, the stalking, and the overwhelming sick feeling you carry in your body, wondering when will the next hit happen. It was all over. Yes, we had years of healing ahead of us. There was brain washing to undo, first off learning that the abuse was never my fault and no matter what commitments I had made I still had the right to walk away from abuse. Most of us were diagnosed with PTSD, so there was a lot of trauma to process, but at least the threat of him was over.
Our healing journey has been a long one. I believe we will continue to heal for the rest of our lives. With each day that passes without him, life gets easier, and we all get stronger. I have since remarried and have dedicated my life to helping others who have experienced abuse.
If you are experiencing abuse, please know that you are not alone. Reach out for professional support and to people who have earned your trust. You do not have to face this alone.
Besides doing the work, I do at Rhodes to Wellness Coaching I also run a non-profit called DASH-Domestic Abuse Survivor Help Inc., and we offer a free mentoring program, all done via email. If you would like to learn more about this program, please visit, https://www.relationshipabuse-recovery.ca/get-support/