Assaulted Women: The First Day of the Rest of My Life
By Valerie Pearl
One of the first things I bought was a big binder and a package of dividers to go with it. That was just over a week after I had called 911 and my husband had been arrested for assaulting and threatening me. As insignificant as that purchase may seem, it had great symbolic significance. I was going to take charge – of my life, of my finances and most of all, my happiness. The other thing I bought that day was a book that had been recommended to me, on how to bring your kids through separation and divorce in a healthy way. As I carried the paperback out the store, I made an oath to myself that no hateful feelings will ever arise in me, and that my kids will never become bartering tools in the legal fight that was about to begin.
All this happened nearly 15 years after my husband and I met, and those of you who have never been in an abusive relationship may wonder why on earth it took me so long to break free. The women I’m writing this for will know why. You see, it isn’t always bad – on the contrary, you sway between euphoria and pain, as such is the dynamic between abuser and abused. I will not use the word “victim”, as every abused woman has a part in the nature of her relationship. No, I’m not hinting that we are at fault for being abused, but that we have learned to act in a way, out of fear and hope, which enables the abuser.
There had always been the hope that things might get better, that he might realize, and change. He was even one of the men who went to get help through therapy. And of course there was the other side of this psychological game: his guilt, his pleas for me to stay because he “needed me”. It is astonishing that it is often strong women who get caught up in such scenarios, as they are the ones who also like to help and “fix”, who want to feel that they contribute to their partners overcoming their issues.
Until the last moment when I made the phone call that changed my life so ultimately, I was swaying between “run as fast as you can” and “fight for things to get better”. I’m not someone who gives up easily, and for so long I had explained to my friends and family why I stayed. He is not a bad person, I feel sorry for him, no one understands fully how he really is. The fact of the matter is that all of us were right. No, he is not a bad person, just one with issues he needs to work on. At the same time, everybody else knew what I refused to see for so long: that there was only one way, and that way was OUT.
Being an immigrant didn’t help the situation. I left my family behind; the only relatives I had in Canada were his. Then we had children and I thought I should hold on, for their sake. At the same time, my love for them and the fear for their safety finally gave me the courage to act and do the right thing for all of us.
The week after, the one I call the beginning of the rest of my life, was amazing. I had thought I was alone! My phone didn’t stop – I received calls from the governmental Victim’s Service Unit, Children’s Aid Services came to check in on us, a complete stranger set me up for an hour of free consultation with a top lawyer. Most of all, my friends offered support of all sorts – from lending a shoulder while I cried to bringing over meals and wine for good cheer, offering any money they may be able to spare and working all the useful connections they may have had. Despite the fact that my family was far away, I felt I was held safely in a network of kind, caring people and a system that looks after women like us.
I know that one day I will be able to pay this forward and help others who have been in this situation. But maybe that one day is actually today. If you are reading this and you feel abused in your relationship, I need to tell you this: breaking out of it is the scariest thing you have ever done, but the minute you walk away, you will feel empowered like you never have before. Find the strength in yourself to stand up for your happiness, look in the mirror and tell yourself you deserve nothing less than to be treated with kindness, love and respect – and walk away!