4 years out…still trapped

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Photo credit: http://www.katewmak.com/

This week marks the 4 year anniversary of the separation from my ex.  Four years since the night I told him it was over and I was leaving.  Four years since I made the biggest and most difficult decision of my life.  6 weeks later, I moved into my own home and started my new life as a single mother of two.

If I had known back then how difficult leaving would be, I would probably be dead.  If I had known 4 years ago that the court process would still be ongoing.  If I had known he was going to abuse my children and I would be helpless to prevent it.  If I had known that after four years, I would still be caught, living my life trying to prevent him from hurting us.

If I had known these things I would have stayed.  If I had known that leaving would become a marathon of epic proportions, with no end in sight, I would have ended my life.

In the past four years I have endured all of my worst fears.  I have had to face the fact that my absolute worst fear (my own children experiencing abuse) has not only occurred, but is ongoing and society refuses to step in to stop it.  I live with things I thought I could not survive and I live with them daily.

I’ve had to survive things that no person should have to survive and so have my children.  Leaving didn’t save me.  It didn’t save them.  It didn’t cure my PTSD because I’m still being abused by him.

Some days, even recently, I have wanted to give up.  When I started to feel as suicidal, as hopeless, as trapped and as depressed as when I was living with him, it felt unbearable.  Many days feel unbearable, but each day I survive.  I have to survive to create a safe home for my children.

It’s crucial to help people and support them in exiting abusive situations, but we have to stop perpetuating the destructive myth that “just leaving” is the solution.  We have to stop perpetuating the myth that “just leaving” will solve all the problems.  If your abuser is the parent of your children, you can never “just leave” because you are forced to interact with them on a regular basis until your children are adults and possibly longer.

Of course I had to leave.  I wouldn’t have survived there much longer.

Of course it’s better for my children to have a happy, healthy mother 50% of the time rather than a dead mother 100% of the time.

Of course I made the right decision, the only decision.

Of course there are a number of things in my life that have improved since leaving and I’m grateful for them.

But that doesn’t make it any less painful to look back over 4 years of struggling to fully extricate myself from narcissistic abuse.  4 years of betrayals and incompetence by every major social program I’ve interacted with (CAS, legal, court, police, hospital, school).

So let’s support domestic abuse survivors to leave, but let’s also support them for as long as it takes after.  Let’s recognize and acknowledge that the abuse does not end the moment she walks out the door.  Let’s support survivors who regularly doubt whether or not they should have left, because the legal process is so traumatic and inaccessible.  Let’s support survivors who have to co-parent with narcissits.

Create a community of support circling the survivor and keep it in place for as long as she needs it.  Because she will need it, especially at the times she feels as bad, or worse than she did in the relationship.

So this week I mark 4 years down, a life time of healing to go!

December 6th -National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

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On December 6, 1989,  fourteen female engineering students were murdered at school in Montreal.  They were murdered because they were women and their murders were extreme acts of gender based violence.

Just last week, on December 1, 2016, a Toronto doctor was murdered by her physician husband.  Someone posted something on facebook, commenting that this murderer must be “sick,” or “mentally ill,” and I was angry.

Violence against women, domestic violence, and gender based violence that escalates to femicide is not caused by seriously mentally ill men.  That’s a myth and it’s a dangerous one which overlooks the very real structural and societal causes of violence against women.  Causes such as patriarchy, rape culture, poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia and other types of oppression and inequality that impact women and gender non-conforming folks.  Mentally ill and other folks with disabilities are far more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators of it.

Tomorrow night I will be attending a vigil to remember those women and gender non-conforming folks who have lost their lives as result of gender based violence.  In particular, the victims of the Montreal massacre.

So many times over the past few  years,  when I’ve heard news stories about domestic violence escalating to murder, I’ve thought to myself: that could be me.  That could be me.  What makes me different from those women?  What is it that made that particular man, escalate his violence in that particular way, on that day?   Statistics show that women are most at risk of being killed around the time when they are planning to leave the perpetrator, or just after leaving.  I often wonder what would it take to make my ex snap?  What does it take for someone to cross a line between sexual assault, and murder?   How thin is that line?  How safe am I really?

I could be that woman.   I am that woman.

Truth be told, a lot of us could be that woman.  And that’s not a reality that many of us want to face.  Instead we talk about how the murderer must be seriously mentally ill, a crazy person, someone that must be fundamentally different from us, different from our neighbour, our doctor, our religious leader, our school teachers, our lawyers, our engineers and our bankers.  We think of the victims as misfits, as street folks, addicts, people who are “different” or somehow to blame.

But the honest truth is that the victims of domestic violence are all around us.  They are you, they are  me and they didn’t do anything to provoke the violence.

The perpetrators are all around us too.  They are sitting next to you in the cubicle beside you at work, they just served you at the restaurant you ate lunch at.

Gender based violence is everywhere and we all have a responsibility to look for the signs, see the signs, believe survivors, speak out, speak up, ask questions, don’t turn our backs on it and remember those who have lost their lives.   Remember them tomorrow on December 6th, say the names of those who have lost their lives, and remember them every day.

I would also like to remember my friends who have not survived their battles with PTSD due to gender based sexual violence.  Suicide as a direct result of PTSD that was caused by repeated and horrific sexual assault is akin to slow murder by the perpetrator.  My friends were some of the bravest people I have ever known and they were survivors even though they did not survive.

On December 6th, I will remember you.

The 14 women murdered at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal were:

Geneviève Bergeron
Hélène Colgan
Nathalie Croteau
Barbara Daigneault
Anne-Marie Edward
Maud Haviernick
Barbara Klucznik Widajewicz
Maryse Laganière
Maryse Leclair
Anne-Marie Lemay
Sonia Pelletier
Michèle Richard
Annie St-Arneault
Annie Turcotte