The Journey of One
How did I end up at Battered Women’s Support Services? This is my journey…
My parents are immigrants. My Mom is from Trinidad and my Dad is from Germany. They immigrated to Canada in the 1960’s. They met, got married, and had three girls of which I am the youngest. They had no family here to help support them, just themselves.
When I was approximately 3 years old my parents left me with an acquaintance for 3-4 days without my siblings. My Mom had to have surgery and my Dad was working; so my Mom asked the next-door neighbours if they could look after us. They agreed, but they had 2 children of their own. My parents worried that they were causing too much of a burden for the neighbour, so when the pastor’s daughter, an acquaintance, offered to take the “the baby”, they agreed. They thought it would be easier for everybody.
One day our family went to the pastor’s daughter’s house; we had never been there before. I don’t know how long we stayed, but what happened there would have a devastating impact on me. I remember being in the lady’s arms with my back to the window when I noticed the room had gotten quiet. I looked around to see what happened. My family was gone. Fear and shock hit me and this primal sound came out of me. Panicked, I frantically tried to get out of the lady’s arms. As I struggled, I saw my family. They were outside walking towards the car. Desperately I screamed and tried to get their attention, “Mom, Dad wait!” “Mom, Dad, wait!! … I’m here …you forgot about me! …you forgot about me!!!” It did not matter what I did; they did not see or hear me. It was like I was invisible. Then they left.
I get emotional when I think about my abandonment experience, even though it was not intentional and it happened 37 years ago. It was a traumatic experience, and traumatic experiences have cellular memory.
My mother picked me up 3-4 days later. I remember when she came; I acted like I did not see her. I was so wounded words could not explain. I remember feeling anger towards her. You left me. You hurt me. The carpet had been whipped out from under my feet. I feared any moment it could happen again. My safety and security was breached. My defences would remain on high, and subconsciously I vowed that I would never let anybody hurt me like that again. The environment in which I was raised was difficult. My mother was a strong loving woman, but she worried a lot. She also imposed some of her beliefs and experiences on us. My mother is a dark-skinned Black woman who experienced racism. In her attempt to alert us to some of life’s harsh realities she would say: “Because you are Black, you have to work twice as hard to succeed”, or “You can’t trust nobody.” Her intentions were good, but her words only scared me. She alerted us more to the potential dangers in the world than our abilities. I was convinced that the world was not safe, life was not fair, and that I was disadvantaged because of my colour.
My Dad was different. He was a dictator. He was highly critical and he ruled with anger. He bought into the myth that ‘children should be seen and not heard’. It always seemed that whenever my sisters and I were having fun, he would storm in and ask us what we were doing. It was like our laughter bothered him. We were not allowed to be “kids”. Feeling good about yourself also seemed to be sinful because he was quick to put you in your place. He was not above intimidating or humiliating you. He never apologized for his actions even when he was wrong. He was the authority. My sisters and I feared him. When we would talk to our mother about our Dad she would say: "Your Dad was born during the war… that is his culture… it is just because he is working so hard… but your Dad is a good father because he provides." It is true. My Dad was born and raised in Germany in 1939, and he did provide. We lived in a nice house and there was always food on the table.
When I was 15 years old I was in a bad car accident. I was sitting in the back of a station wagon not wearing a seat belt. My sister’s boyfriend was driving when we were hit. The car spun around, the back door opened, and I was ejected. I landed on my head and my back. I fractured my skull, sustained a brain injury, permanently lost my sense of smell, fractured my 7th vertebrae, punctured my ear drum, and had numerous cuts, bruises, lacerations etc. To this day I have no memory of the accident and very little memory of the nine days I spent in the hospital. The only day I remember more clearly is the day I left the hospital. That is when I realized that this was not just a bad dream, this really happened. I got angry. I had difficulty grasping this reality. I had a brain injury and it was believed that my ability to learn would decrease. That devastated me. Why did this happen to me, not that I wished this on anybody else, but why me? I was a good girl. People would say I was “too” nice. I cared so much about other people. I would be friends with everybody, even the outcasts. I never wanted to see people rejected by others or bullied because in a way they were part of me. I always wanted harmony I never challenged authority. I was obedient and polite. Why me? My mother would take me to the doctor frequently because of my moods and my preference to have died in the car accident. I was not suicidal really it is just that I think death would have been easier. Doctors would explain that depression is very common in people who have suffered brain injuries; the other symptoms were just written off as normal teenage angst. I was referred to some psychiatrists, but no one really seemed to get me. I floundered. A few times I did attend a brain injury support group, but I was often higher functioning than the others in the group and that was depressing. One lady tried to hit me with her crutch one time. She became agitated as I shared some of the difficulties that I was having at work. She yelled at me, “At least you can work.” That experience upset me.
I was too high functioning to access disability, and yet I was affected by my injury. I was easily overwhelmed, had trouble concentrating, had problems with my short term memory, it often took me longer to do things. I was damaged goods. How could I compete with others? Who would want me?
I remember when I met my husband. I wanted someone who was the opposite of my father and I thought I met my match. Things were great for the first several years then things started to change, especially after our son was born. The differences in our culture, our perception and expectation of our parental roles and duties and the differences in our religious beliefs increasingly became a problem. When we met we believed love would conquer all. Now he was imposing his beliefs on me. He would criticize my interests and my beliefs. He became more opinionated and less compromising. We would argue a lot. There was a lot of tension and anger. At times he got so angry he would start to shake and sweat. He looked like a man about to lose his sanity. He would threaten to commit suicide. One day he did pick up a knife and challenged me. I sought counselling from my pastor who suggested we see a marital counsellor with at least 20 years experience and to continue to pray. I did pray a lot, but nothing changed. We saw a marital counsellor and it became very clear to me that my husband and I saw things differently. My h
usband came from another country. He has no family here except me, our son, and my family. My family witnessed some of his actions and attitude and became increasingly less supportive and more suspicious of him. I would tell my husband what I need to make our relationship work, but he never listened. I was staying in the marriage because of my religious beliefs. Because my husband did not commit adultery or physically abandon me, divorce was not permissible. I was miserable.
One night, the potential volatility of our relationship hit me and I felt the need to warn my family. My husband’s uncontrollable rage, his threats, he did not want our relationship to end, but I did and I let him know that. What would happen to me if I leave and take our son? Despite my fear of the possible consequences, I took our son and fled to a shelter that provides temporary housing for women fleeing abusive relationships. That was a year ago.
Presently I am in Second Stage housing and my son goes to daycare. I started taking the Empowering Women Employment Program for Immigrant Women in May 2011. This course has changed my life. I have never felt better about myself and my abilities. The facilitators and the counsellors are excellent. They respect and honour you and your process. They teach you about the importance of recognizing your needs, and taking care of yourself. There are courses like R.U.O.I.A. which stands for: Recognize, Understand, and Overcome the Impacts of Abuse. This course is mandatory in the program. They teach you about understanding your emotions, like anger. Anger is not wrong. It is a normal human emotion and a natural adaptive response to threats. How you express anger is what makes the difference. There are classes in effective communication, relationship building, working with others and numerous employment related programs. There is also a course called Awareness + Action = Empowerment. I love the programs and have benefitted greatly from them. The Empowering Women’s Employment Program for Immigrant Women has had an incredible impact on me.
Soon I will get training to do volunteer work and I want to go back to school. I am planning to go to college. I am passionate about sharing knowledge to empower others. I want to communicate to promote awareness and help bring about positive social change. The majority of our society is unaware of how common and how deep the problem of violence against women is. Abuse is not just physical, or sexual. Abuse is often verbal, emotional, psychological, financial, cultural etc. and equally destructive. I have learned so much at BWSS. I have been empowered. Now I want to take what I have learned and share it with others.