I read It’s Time: Canada’s National Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-based Violence today. I was part of the development of this Strategy, with a group of other strong and determined Survivors. We met over the course of a year to discuss our experiences in the Family Law, Criminal and Civil Court systems, as well as our experiences with social service agencies and child protection agencies. We culminated our accounts, thoughts and experiences, along with comprehensive recommendations, in to a report that was presented to the Minister of the Status of Women earlier this year. So, I was very curious and eager to read the report, particularly because our group, Believe/Croyez has been selected from a National pool of other advocacy groups, who also provided reports of their own, with the hopes of being selected to work with the government in making this Strategy become a reality. Believe/Croyez will receive grant money to put our recommendations in to action and change the landscape of gender-based violence in this country, with a view to ending it.
So many parts of the report had me feeling hopeful and reassured; finally, it seems, the government is listening. Finally, we have a plan and that is a very good start. Something really struck me, though. A paragraph that says, “Violence can have life-long impacts on an individual’s physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health. Impacts can include physical injury and death, disabilities- including depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder- as well as sexually transmitted infections, unintended pregnancy, miscarriage, substance use, absence from school or work, job loss and social isolation.” This is more true than anyone can know. I have often said, in an effort to lighten a very heavy mood when speaking about my own experiences, that domestic violence is the gift that keeps on giving. Just when a woman thinks she’s turned a corner, there seems to always be yet another road block for her to overcome. Being a victim is traumatizing , life threatening and life changing, but just because you’re “out” doesn’t mean it’s over.
Speaking for myself and, if I may, my children, we are still coping with the aftermath of my abusive marriage. I left my husband July 21, 2004, and still today, the shadows of Jason’s abuse hangs over us. We all have a degree of PTSD, depression and anxiety. We have all sustained physical, emotional and psychological injury from our abuser, causing us to miss work, school, become isolated from friends and family at times and, when we just couldn’t figure out a way to connect, from each other. I would often miss work in the early days of my separation due to lawyers’ meetings, court dates, doctor’s and counselling appointments for my kids. But there were also times I missed work because the fear of leaving my house was so great, I couldn’t get myself through the door. The anxiety I felt being away from my children and not knowing for sure they were safe would have me keeping my children home from school for movie days, making ice cream sundaes while avoiding their questions about why they “got to” stay home today.
Often I would stay home rather than going out with friends because I just couldn’t handle their questions or worse, their lack of questions. They did not understand what I was experiencing and did not know how to support me. Seeing them living their “normal” lives was so painful for me; I felt like a failure in so many ways, it was just easier to make excuses and stay home. At times, friends just stopped inviting me, and I knew they were excluding me, but I didn’t blame them. I wasn’t much fun to be around with my anger and paranoia, my guilt and jealousy. Home with my babies was where I wanted to be and in spending so much time with my children, in keeping us all so close together, I created an isolation and a co-dependency that would later cause a rift in the family that I am not sure we (I) will ever be able to repair. My eldest daughter has left home, has stopped speaking to me and, while my heart is broken, I understand her motivation completely. She needs to separate herself from all that reminds her of the pain and hurt that was her childhood.
I suffer from PTSD, OCD, Anxiety and Depression… I never realized a person could have all of these diagnoses until I was awarded them, like a prize for “worst dressed” at a red carpet event. These are all badges I wear and the pin pricks in my skin where the various cocktails of medication do not numb their sharp points are reminders that while my marriage is long over, the effects of it are not. I am prone to self-medication with alcohol and, on occasion, recreational drugs. I have rituals that must be completed daily (hourly, minute-by-minute depending on my anxiety level) some of which, my children can tell you, are extreme and, for them, invasive. They have never enjoyed me vacuuming and mopping the floors and even less so when the vacuum is turned on while they are sleeping or trying to watch TV. I do both of these things daily, sometimes four or five times a day at my most anxious. There have been times where I have not slept for days and other times when its all I could do to get out of bed. Some say it is a testament to my strength that I always did get out of bed, but it was not so much my strength as my guilt, knowing I owed it to my kids to get out of bed and make the best effort I could to parent them. There were many days I went back to bed after I got the kids to school and stayed there until it was time to pick them up again.
I also have chronic pain in my back and chronic sciatica. I am told the injuries are those consistent with those a person would sustain from repeated hard falls to the floor on one’s bum. The vertebra in my back have been compressed to the point that I have bulging discs and deterioration, and the sacrum and pelvic bones have been damaged and this causes chronic sciatica. I was not a particularly clumsy child, according to my father, and I am 99% sure these injuries are from literally being knocked on my ass by my husband on many occasions. The pain is never completely fades, no matter how many pharmaceutical drugs my doctors prescribe, or how much alcohol I drink. The constant burning and ache are always there, reminding me of the trauma I survived. The pain keeps me prisoner in a cage of resentment, knowing that it will never get any better and I will never truly be free of “him”.
The choices I made, to leave twelve times and go back thirteen, were made in desperation and a will to protect my babies and try to make the best of a marriage doomed to fail. Even in leaving for the final time, I knew it would not be over just because I vowed to never go back, putting borders and country between us, to guarantee it. I knew he would come for me, and he did. Ten years of courts, lawyers, negotiations, left me bankrupt and living in a deeper poverty pit than I ever imagined. The stalking, threats, break and entering, dozens of daily emails kept me feeling afraid for my life and made it impossible for me to be completely present in any given moment. I lived in a state of hyper vigilance for so many years, that my body could not withstand the stress and so I now have fibromyalgia , a painful, difficult disorder that exacerbates the pain I already live with. I have a sleep disorder that keeps me from falling in to R.E.M. which is required to repair and restore your body. I rarely wake up feeling refreshed.
Still when I go near the Perth Courthouse, I can feel the bile of fear rising in my throat. My hands get clammy, my stomach turns and tears well up in my eyes. When I receive an email from Jason, I still feel anxious and afraid, just seeing his name in my inbox. I received a note from my daughter’s orthodontist last week and it had a hand written note from Jason on it. Seeing his hand writing gave me such a jolt I dropped the paper. I put the letter away; I’ll come back to it when I feel I can. Isn’t that pathetic?
Strength, composure, competence is what people see when I meet them. I dress nicely, I do my hair and my make up daily. I present myself to the world as a Survivor who has overcome her demons and is moving forward in her life. And I am, moving forward. But the demons are at my back, talking in my ear, reminding me that I failed to protect my children, that their pain is my fault, that the future is non-existent.
I separated from my abuser July 21, 2004. I packed up my children and pugs and fled in the night, back to my hometowns to escape. We did not escape. And though court matters have been settled since August 5, 2015, the aftermath and the effects of my marriage are still with me. I will always be “surviving”. My children have a future ahead of them that sometimes seems out of reach, but I will always be there to encourage and support them. Their road is longer and perhaps more treacherous than most and I blame myself for much of that. So, when people say, “It’s been thirteen years. Can’t you just get over it?” I tell them, “No. I can’t.” I cannot just get over it because it’s not over for me. It never will be. That’s the reality of domestic violence. Leaving is not the end. It’s just the beginning of another journey filled with pain, fear and guilt. We Survivors are stronger than anyone, except another Survivor, can ever really know. We put one foot in front of the other every single day, looking a head to a future we sometimes don’t even trust is there. We cannot get over it. It changed our lives, changed who we were and who we could have become. We wear the badge of Survivor without ever having had the choice to not. Our physical, mental, emotional and financial wellness is fleeting, inconsistent and unpredictable. So don’t ask me why I can’t “just get over it.” This is now my life. And the only way to “get over it” is to end it. That is the raw, unsugarcoated, truth. Society doesn’t want to hear this and for decades the trauma of domestic violence was ignored, swept under the rug. But, now we have a strategy, a plan. I was part of that and that is so empowering.
The path I’m on now is exactly where I want to be, speaking out and advocating to end violence against women. I will keep working toward this, keep fighting and keep lending my voice to those who don’t yet know they have their own. I Believe/Croyez we can end violence against women.