Years ago, I was living in isolation land. I had made the difficult decision to take my daughter and leave an abusive relationship, with only a small suitcase and a few family photos in hand.
I felt completely broken, lost, and like I was alone in the middle of a dark ocean. I blamed myself for the abuse and was ashamed that it had happened to my family, but I was determined to find safety and freedom for my daughter and myself.
The counselling program at Dixon Transition Society in Burnaby, BC opened their doors to us, and we wholeheartedly embraced it, yet I was still feeling isolated. It is not easy to put the pieces back together after abuse, even when surrounded by well-intentioned people.
I was teaching part-time at a local college, while my daughter and I shared a mattress on the floor of a rented basement suite: absolutely nobody knew what we were going through. I was afraid of what people would think of me. I felt like a loser. I knew I was smart, but I had been married twice, to abusive men. My counsellors saw resilience in me, but I was still in pieces.
I understand now that shame was a big culprit, and so were my immigrant roots. I was raised to expect nothing but corruption from government, to be self-sufficient, and to ‘hush hush and suck it up’. My idea of recovery was denial. I also now recognize that fear was a destructive presence in my life, both when I lived in abusive environments, and throughout recovery.
In retrospect, I realize that I had two voices in my head: one coming from the counsellors and women in my support group, the other coming from the silenced voices of women in my family and in my childhood community: ‘Hush-hush, this didn’t happen… Everything will be okay if we do not say anything.’ So, I shared my stories of abuse in my group only. At work and with my few friends, I only shared laughter and trivialities.
I didn’t understand that to be able to start anew, I needed to share the silenced stories, not only with members of my support group but also with members of my family. I needed to cry many tears to heal, give birth to a new identity, and finally feel what a healthy life was all about.
During my journey of recovery I felt inspired by the stories of the women in my support group. They were heart-wrenching stories, but they were also stories of hope. Each of these women, like me, wanted to mend their broken pieces.
I was buoyed by the words of support that came from friends, counsellors, and my daughter:
“You do not have to do this alone.”
“You are safe now.”
“Mom, you are my hero. We will make it.”
Those stories and words of support became my lighthouse: I was not alone and neither was my daughter. That feeling fuelled my courage and strengthened my determination to start anew.
If I could talk to that broken Haydee today, I would say:
• Take one day at a time.
• Compassion means to have somebody by your side with a heart full of passion for your recovery. Compassion does not equal pity.
• Shame, blame, guilt, anguish, pride, loneliness, and isolation are by-products of FEAR.
• You can counteract fear with love.
• You are NOT a loser. You are a winner. You broke the machine that was breaking your soul.
• Speak out. Good people are listening.
• Don’t make assumptions. If people say they want to help, believe them.
• Believe in your higher self. You are not alone. Have faith in others as much as in yourself. Together, you will make it.
Today, I want to be a lighthouse for other women. I believe that by sharing my experiences of recovery and life after it, I am lighting the soon-to-be-walked paths of other survivors.
If you or someone you know is seeking support to deal with abuse or violence, visit sheltersafe.ca to find out about resources in your province or territory.