When home be­comes a liv­ing hell

Sackville Tribune - - OP-ED -

Gwen brings me a copy of the nearly 500-page jour­nal de­scrib­ing her de­scent into mar­i­tal mis­ery.

It is a de­tailed record­ing of lay­ers of abuse – psy­cho­log­i­cal, sex­ual, phys­i­cal, fi­nan­cial; her life at home be­com­ing in­creas­ingly volatile and suf­fo­cat­ing.

Though she tries to shield their young chil­dren from the vi­o­lence, she soon learns there is no safe place to hide in a house filled with hate.

I read her jour­nal, shocked by the daily acts of ma­nip­u­la­tion and the sud­den out­bursts of vi­o­lence she de­scribes. How does some­one find the strength to try to es­cape the hor­ror, I won­der.

The short an­swer is, you don’t. You can leave the sit­u­a­tion, but you take your bag­gage with you.

As some­one who knows that the pain of abuse is felt for a life­time, Gwen was pleased to hear the re­cent news that the fed­eral and provin­cial gov­ern­ments will pro­vide fund­ing for le­gal ad­vice for vic­tims of sex­ual as­sault.

But she’d be even more pleased to hear about strate­gies to pre­vent it and in­creased ed­u­ca­tion about the many forms abuse can take.

Gwen be­came preg­nant in an era when her strict par­ents in­sisted their daugh­ter marry the fa­ther of her child – no ifs, ands or buts.

The house­hold ran on her hus­band’s rules, which he con­stantly changed, keep­ing ev­ery­one on eggshells.

These are ex­cerpts from her jour­nal:

“I grad­u­ally started to be­lieve the crazi­ness of his think­ing ... I be­gan to think I was a poor wife and mother. I felt so in­ad­e­quate. He con­trolled me by blam­ing me for his short­com­ings; his com­mon phrase be­ing, ‘Look what you made me do!’ ...”

“From that mo­ment I learned how to de­tect what kind of mood he was in, how to man­age it; how to con­sole and sup­port to keep the peace ... I was grad­u­ally be­ing en­trapped in a very sick web, too pre­oc­cu­pied with sur­viv­ing his mind games to re­al­ize how it was af­fect­ing (our daugh­ters) and me.”

“I was sit­ting at the end of the kitchen table, sewing. He sat at the op­po­site end. With light­ning, pre­med­i­tated con­tempt, he jabbed the table di­rectly into my ribs! I gasped for air! ... The table re­bounded from my chest. I fell to the floor.”

The trauma that Gwen and her chil­dren en­dured crip­pled them and their re­la­tion­ships with each other.

There were times she thought the only way the night­mare would end would be if her hus­band killed her. But the mar­riage ended with di­vorce, not death. The chil­dren are grown and long gone.

“I’m out of the mar­riage now longer than I was in it,” Gwen says. “But it never leaves you.”

She’s in her 60s now. And still, there are nights when she is so tor­tured by me­mories that she can­not sleep, fear­ful of the flash­backs lurk­ing in the shad­ows. She turns the TV to Dis­ney and tries to calm her­self with sounds of cheery in­no­cence.

She wor­ries that some peo­ple might be in equally hor­ri­ble sit­u­a­tions and not re­al­ize that it’s never nor­mal or ac­cept­able to be a vic­tim in your own home. There were times she did not know that her­self, sub­sumed as she was in the warped world of ma­nip­u­la­tion and abuse.

Fi­nally, af­ter years of ex­haus­tion from try­ing to main­tain a fa­cade of nor­malcy in front of the chil­dren, Gwen care­fully plot­ted to leave the mar­riage be­hind – if not the bind­ing emo­tional ties.

“Your es­cape plan has to be so se­cre­tive, so ac­cu­rate,” she said. “The courts don’t give you any backup. You’re out­side on your own with­out any pro­tec­tion pro­vided.”

Af­ter­ward, a friend said to her, “You know it’s not your fault, right?”

“I said, ‘No, I don’t know. I was never told by any­one that I could do any­thing right.’

“Some vic­tims have gone so far into hell they can’t get back,” Gwen says. “How many women are dead from stay­ing in that en­vi­ron­ment? Some may not have in­sight into the risk and dan­ger ...”

Gwen dis­cov­ered an in­ner core of re­silience she drew upon to ex­tri­cate her­self and her chil­dren. She has be­come an ad­vo­cate, ed­u­cat­ing oth­ers about vi­o­lent re­la­tion­ships.

If you need help in New­found­land and Labrador, please visit The Vi­o­lence Preven­tion Ini­tia­tive web­site.

In Nova Sco­tia, there’s the Nova Sco­tia Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Re­source Cen­tre.

P.E.I. has Fam­ily Vi­o­lence Preven­tion Ser­vices.

In New Brunswick, visit the Vi­o­lence Preven­tion and Com­mu­nity Part­ner­ships site.

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