One out of every four women is assaulted in their lifetime. I was one of them, and this is my story.
I knew absolutely nothing about brutality until I got married at the age of 20. Growing up, my home was not a warm and fuzzy one, my parents were not kind to me, but there was no violence. It wasn’t that my home life was all bad; it was just a very quiet, non-welcoming house with no warmth or hugs and no solidarity as a family. So, I went to other people’s houses whenever I could and my parents didn’t mind one bit.
I met my future husband in high school when I was 17 years old. He was handsome and full of life, but he had come from a tragic and abusive past. As a teenager he found his way into the home of his aunt and uncle who raised him.
It was a fun, but often turbulent teenage relationship. Although there was no physical abuse, there was some emotional abuse. Abuse that I didn’t recognize, but my friends did. Most didn’t like him at all, but he was all I could think of, it was the first time I’d ever been in love.
Eventually we broke up but got back together at the age of 19. We lived together before we were married and while there was emotional abuse, there wasn’t much of a difference between the way my parents treated me and the way that he treated me.
He hit me once. But I really loved him, and went ahead and married him anyway. I was married in a beautiful, long pink dress with flowers in my hair. The next time that I wore that dress, was to a friend’s wedding. During the reception, drunk, he accused me of coming on to other male guests and the accusations continued all the way home where he beat me severely. The first punch knocked me to the ground. I remember thinking as I struggled to get up, “I didn’t know that people did this to each other.” When he was done, he went to bed.
My pink dress was covered with bright red blood. I’ll never forget it. I just gathered it up staring at all the blood and thinking, “this is what my life is all about now,” and I threw it in the garbage. That action symbolized my life from then on.
He continued to emotionally and physically abuse me, never just hitting me, always beating me.
A year into our marriage, I got very sick and could not take birth control, I got pregnant and we had a daughter. One in five women are assaulted during pregnancy. I was one of them.
He beat me constantly during my pregnancy. One day, while he was knocking me around, some friends of his came to the door. He threw me in the bathroom and answered the door with a hearty welcome. During the next few hours, while his friends stayed and drank, every once in awhile he’d come in to the bathroom where I was lying on the floor and kick me, leave the room, then go back and have another beer.
Over the next five years I was forced to work full-time and put all my money into his bank account. I was not allowed to drive. I was given an allowance, enough for bus fare and lunches at work. I had so many injuries and black eyes that I called in sick to work constantly, inventing stories that would allow me to take up to a week off at a time. Bruises take a long time to heal. At one point my employer threatened to fire me but I cried and begged and they kept me on. I would have been in big trouble if I were fired.
Every single Christmas Eve I was beaten; I couldn’t wrap presents correctly, etc. More often than not I had to spend that night on the floor. That was one of his favourite punishments. The next day, Christmas morning, covered with bruises, I would put on a brave face for my daughter as she opened her presents. To this day I have a hard time at Christmas.
Keeping the house clean was particularly stressful for me. All the carpets were plush, and you could see footprints when they were walked on. Every time my daughter and I used the stairs, I had to sweep up our steps so that no one could see them. No one was ever allowed to go in the living room except me. There was big plant in there that I had to take care of, a fern. There came a time when the plant developed some kind of disease, it was covered with little bumps. I was frantic to keep it healthy. He caught me one day, picking off the bumps. He checked, and found out that the plant was dying and told me to do something about it, screaming, “The plant dies, you die.” – Somehow it survived.
Things just seemed to get worse the longer we were together. To this day, I can not believe, that even by accident, he didn’t kill me. One night he beat me up in the car, left me in a ditch in another city, drove home, picked up our daughter and went to bed. Another time, he threw me out of a moving car. People saw it and phoned the police who picked me up at the side of the road. The neighbours were always calling the police and every time I was too afraid to press charges.
Why did I stay through all of this? I truly didn’t know any better, emotional and physical abuse is all about mind control. I was too far gone. And, when I went to my father who was a retired RCMP Officer for help, I received none. In fact, he spoke to my husband in front of me a few days later saying, “I know she can be a handful.”
The day that I realized that if I stayed I would surely die, was the day that he raped me – punching me in the head with our daughter standing outside the door. I knew that my chances of getting out alive were 50/50, leaving without a safety plan is the most dangerous thing an abused woman can do.
I finally told someone, a woman I barely knew, but she had an apartment that she rarely used and I fled while he was out of town. I eventually got an apartment of my own but he continued to terrorize me, one time breaking in, and trying to drown me. He continued to terrorize me until he found someone else. He beat that woman, still his wife for years. I do not know if it is still continuing to do so.
A few years after I left, I re-married and moved to another city. I had two more children, and, for a short time my life was happy and peaceful. But, when my third child was born with Down syndrome, my second husband (although not a bully) was a coward and left. I was completely devastated, and fell apart. Shattered that he left me, unable to cope and deal with the monsters in my head, I went from being a good mother to one that was incredibly depressed and often drunk.
Over the next eight to ten years I was again abused, this time by my daughter with my first husband. She needed someone to blame. What do you do when your children taunt, belittle and beat you? As time went by,my daughter, in her own words ‘taught’ her brother, my son with my second husband, everything she knew. But he was more creative than she and abused me in terrible, terrible ways, both emotionally and physically. Ultimately, I had my son arrested. He and his older sister have never forgiven me for that betrayal and neither of them has ever been terribly kind to their little sister. They are embarrassed by her.
What happened with my son changed me forever. I can not speak about the humiliation he inflicted. I can honestly say that to this day what I went through with him was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me in my life. Because of it, until a few years ago I was afraid all the time, of just about everything, that I wasn’t even worthy of living. But today, my fear has somewhat subsided. It’s been a very, very long process.
Through the kindness of others, I have learned that I am a worthwhile person. I know that I am a wonderful mother to my daughter, Marissa. And we, the two of us are a family, happy and whole. I have a fulfilling career, and friends who understand and care about me.
Although I have constant triggers often daily, I have learned how to deal with them and finally be proud of who I am – a woman who survived domestic abuse. I feel free. I know the meaning of freedom because I did not have it for about 20 years. I still marvel at it, often, very often… especially when I’m at home. To this day, I look around at my peaceful surroundings and am so thankful. You see, you never forget what it’s like to be in prison or to be afraid all the time and never know what’s going to happen next. I do still have many triggers and bad dreams. These dreams aren’t replays of what happened before but appear to be what it would be like today if I’d never left, broke ties with my daughter or had my son arrested, meaning that he too was gone from my life. They are very disturbing and I have to remind myself when I wake up that they are not real. Can you imagine the relief? And, I am proud that I did not allow my husband, daughter and son to steal my spirit. They did, for quite some time, but no longer. I know by the way that others treat me that I did not deserve that.