Becoming free to live life the way it’s meant to be lived

At first, he made a big show of being protective of me — he told me he would always ‘look after’ me.

Submitted

The following story was submitted by the Sylvan Lake Family Violence and Bullying Coalition and Building Bridges sub-committee as part of its month-long campaign to raise awareness of family violence and bullying, and the resources available to help cope with them:

Donna’s story:

At first, he made a big show of being protective of me — he told me he would always ‘look after’ me. Little did I know that what he really meant was that he wanted to make all the decisions, and I was expected to go along with it.

We had our good times, but once we were married, his desire to control everything became more obvious. He never actually hit me, but his behaviour left me constantly on edge. He would push me, throw things at me, call me names, and humiliate me in front of friends. These episodes would often be followed by him apologizing. He constantly demanded that I prove I loved him.

He acted like a loving father to the outside world, but at home he did very little for our daughters. I had to do everything — all the housework, all the care for our kids. Even when I was really sick, he refused to do anything to help. But at the same time, he tried to control how I dealt with the kids and how they related to me and each other. He’d sabotage my attempts to create routines and often told the kids to ignore rules I tried to set. For example, if I told the kids it was time for bed, he’d say ‘we don’t need to listen to her, do we?’

Basically my whole life came to revolve around making him happy. At some level, I thought the abuse was my fault — I was inadequate and couldn’t cope well as a mother. I was ashamed to tell anyone.

As our daughters got older, I started noticing how his behaviour was affecting them. My eldest shut herself off from everyone and became very withdrawn. Meanwhile, our youngest was copying his behaviour and became demanding and difficult.

I began to read books about self-esteem and relationships. They reminded me that I deserved something more than the treatment I was receiving from him.

One day, after bursting into tears in front of my doctor, I blurted out what had been going on at home. She was very kind. She spoke about ‘domestic violence’ — I’d never thought that was what I was experiencing.

With the support of an agency providing services to victims of domestic violence, I found the strength to leave. It wasn’t easy, and took a lot of planning. I made a couple of attempts to leave, but he would beg and cry and tell me how much he’d miss me and the kids. I caved in and stayed.

But after one horrible incident, in which he pushed me up against the wall and threatened to kill me, I decided I had to get out. I picked the kids up after school and we drove to my sister’s place in another community. There, I rang him and told him I wasn’t coming back. He just exploded.

I had to endure his guilt-trips, intimidation, pleading, anger and rage, reminding myself that I deserve something better. The worse he behaved, the clearer it came to me that I had to stick to my decision. With the continued support from my support worker, I was able to focus on the future.

I went to court and applied for an emergency protection order to protect me. To see that the judge took his aggressive behaviour seriously made a big difference, and he was forced to back off and stop harassing me.

I’ve found a new house and a part-time job. I am slowly rebuilding my relationship with my daughters. We go to counselling together and talk about how we can relate to each other better.

It’s taken a while for them to accept my authority as their mother, after years of him getting them to think they can just ignore whatever I say. But nothing will ever be as stressful as the day-by-day stress of living with his demands, moods and criticisms.

I am finally living the life that I was meant to live — free from violence, confident and happy.

(Story provided by Barb Barber, executive director of the Central Alberta Women’s Outreach Society; www.womensoutreach.ca, 403-347-2480)