My Story: letter to a YWCA Support Group
Feminist perspectives part 6
It lasted just over 18 years...I had so much regret, anger, resentment and sadness. How is it that I allowed this to happen? And continue to happen? My feelings sound like those of a victim...which I hate...but that is what I am....a victim of domestic violence, specifically emotional abuse. Intellectually it doesn't make sense. I am a strong, confident, courageous, educated women, and yet, here I am.
In my heart I knew from the beginning that the relationship was not good for me. Something overrode my gut instinct though and I powered through. I think it was a combination of low self esteem, believing that I deserved what I was getting, convincing myself that the relationship was 'normal', and in large part, believing that things would be different. I've always been very competitive and rarely shied away from a 'big challenge'. Besides that, I was a single mom with 2 small kids and I desperately did not want to be alone and thought this was the only time someone would be interested in my kids and me. Part of what complicated my situation is that it wasn't all bad. There were some great times, which of course fuelled my belief that things would change.
It's not just my gut that got overrode, my common sense did too. There were a number of red flags that went up, right from the outset of the relationship. I felt so much inner turmoil and still made the conscious decision to ignore. I selfishly allowed my children to witness and experience, first hand, emotional abuse.
Several years into the marriage, and after the birth of our own child, we went to marriage counseling to deal with the fact that for two years my husband chose not to speak to my oldest son. Through the course of the counseling my husband revealed that he'd been unfaithful for our entire marriage....I was relieved...it was the out that I subconsciously was looking for. So I left. Sort of. After I left I felt so lonely and even less confident. My husband and I lived under separate roofs for almost two years but short of the first few months we were still very much a couple. Just before our little guy went to kindergarten, I returned to our matrimonial home, with a pit in my gut. It was an all too familiar feeling that I ignored under the guise of being a happy family.
A bunch more years went by....I rarely saw my friends and family...my husband found something wrong with everybody so it was less stressful to just not be around anyone. The times that we did see people it was at his impetus, and then he was the most charming person ever. Of course this would be followed by a brighter glimmer of hope, which turned up the dial on the belief that kept me getting out of bed everyday. That is, until our defining moment...while on vacation, we got into a heated argument in our hotel room, in front of our son, and in a moment of rage he grabbed the front of my shirt and held his fist up as though he was going to hit me. He wanted to hit me...truthfully, I wanted him to hit me too. A punch in the face is tangible...it's something that people can see, it's something I can easily use to explain why it's over and I need to leave. Despite the fact that he didn't hit me, a switch flipped inside of me and I knew I was done. For the duration of the vacation I put on a happy face and did what I could to show our traumatized son that everything would be ok.
After the vacation we went back to marriage counseling to discuss what happened. Our counselor suggested that my husband attend the anger management program offered by the YWCA, and that I might consider attending the woman's program. Surprisingly, my husband agreed. I, however was in deep denial and felt as though the woman's program was not something I needed. I couldn't possibly need something like that, I was fine.
Needless to say, I felt tremendous relief when the counselor unveiled our abusive relationship. For the first time in what seemed like forever I felt like I wasn't crazy. I started seeing a therapist and spent time rebuilding relationships with family and friends. I still refused to believe I belonged in the program at the Y.
I eventually left my husband and started on a journey of self awareness. Over the course of this journey I opened myself up to the idea of attending the woman's group. I did the intake and still felt reluctant...afraid that everyone's story would be much worse than mine, that I was being dramatic...that I would feel judged. The realization I had after the intake triggered a life altering experience directly related to the woman's group. I was afraid of being judged because I was extremely judgmental of women just like me....it explains why I kept my reality a secret from everyone besides the marriage counselor, my therapist, and the intake counselor. If I held myself in judgment then surely others would too. Before my first session I was able to let that judgment go...all judgments actually. I walked into my first group session with an open mind and an open heart. I'm not sure I would have gotten to that point if it weren’t for the program and the process that goes along with being able to attend.
Since being in the woman's group, I have felt more compassion and gratitude than I have the whole rest of my life. Every story is unique and amazing all on its own. There are no comparisons...the courage and strength and determination that I have seen in the group environment has spilled over onto me. Up until attending group, I was battling through my situation alone...I felt lonely and like an outcast. This is not something that anyone should go through alone...and the program offers support, understanding, and the opportunity for a voice when it's needed most. I am grateful to every woman that I have crossed paths with in the group for honouring me by sharing their story.
Each topic that we've discussed has almost always resulted in some kind of 'ahh ha' moment. These moments provide me with clarity and understanding which facilitates my healing and ability to move on. You don't just show up to group for 2 hours each week and come out at the end of 14 weeks ready to leave the past behind. There's work to do. The group simply lays the framework for you. This is not something that we're born knowing. It's ok to ask for help with things that we don't know and every woman in that room is there asking for help. Thankfully there's a place that provides it.
Information about the resources and support programs offered by Canada's YWCA can be found HERE.