Editor’s Note: The following article recounts a woman’s experience of abuse and may contain sensitive material to some readers.
University is great because you come in thinking about the world one way, then you take a first year “Introduction to Women’s Studies” thinking it’ll be a bird course that’ll raise your CGPA and all of a sudden you’ve discovered your deep-set desire to tear down the patriarchy, finally realizing that everything is a construct and if you think about it, marriage is a heteronormative and outdated concept (just think about it). Now you’re out here engaging in critical gender analysis of everything as mundane as the way men sit on buses to why Hillary lost to a reality tv star. What’s more, you don’t care if people think you’re obnoxious.
Humour me; growing up, many little girls sat starry-eyed in front of the tv rooting for Cinderella, Jasmine and Ariel because if there was any justice in the world they would end up with their Prince Charming. Getting the guy and dashing into the sunset was the end goal; at least that was what was fed to us by Disney. It’s fun to watch these make-believe stories of love and happily-ever-afters, but the thing is Disney doesn’t prepare you for what comes after and what if what comes after isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be?
A whopping 43% of dating violence occurs among youth between the ages 15-24, and women between 15-19 are 10 times more likely to experience violence in relationships than their male counterparts (Police-reported dating violence in Canada, 2008). Nothing can prepare you for that split second when the strike lands. With a single blow you’re left feeling isolated, cut off from every person in your life. You decide to work through it, but it happens again and again and again until you feel like it’s too late to leave. In the second part of “Surviving Abuse”, I was able to chat with one of my girlfriends about the physical and emotional abuse that she experienced in a previous relationship. This is what she shared with me:
Q: How were you abused and by who were you abused?
A: My ex-boyfriends. Mentally, physically and emotionally.
Q: When did you realize you were being abused?
A: What I thought was love was a constant battle of trying to please someone who was taking me for granted and liked having the convenience of me.
Q: Have you remained in contact with the individual(s) who abused you? What do you wish you could tell them? Did you ever confront them?
A: I don’t remain in contact with them anymore. I wish I could tell them I had the confidence and guidance to leave them sooner and better myself. After the breakup, when I felt I had a clear head, I did try and tell them how I felt. It felt good to get it off my chest, but I wish that it was acknowledged the way I wanted it to be. I still felt as if I was being accused, like I was the one who did something wrong.
Q: Did you ever make excuses for the abuser(s)? If so, in what way?
A: Yes. Not telling my friends or family what was really going on. Not listening to my intuition and the voice in my head. I would blame myself and my actions for what was happening. I was always wondering, “What did I do this time?” or “How can I make this better?” I didn’t realize that I was in a very messed up situation. Young love, that’s what I thought it was.
Q: Did you tell anyone about the abuse while it was happening, or did you wait until it was over?
A: I waited until it was over.
Q: Did you have a support system during the abuse/anyone to talk to? How and when did the abuse stop?
A: I chose not to tell anyone what was going on, which I regret because I do have great friends that would have listened and a mother who was just a call away. I always felt that I would be asked, “What did you do wrong?” forgetting that he was the problem and not I. It stopped when I ended the relationship and chose not to see him or speak to him again.
Q: What’s one thing you wish you could have told your younger self about the abuse and what are you the most proud of concerning how you handled the aftermath?
A: If it feels wrong, it’s wrong. If you are constantly questioning your sanity, it’s wrong. That it’s okay to leave and that everything happens for a reason. I would tell myself to be stronger and have the courage to realize the love that you deserve and to never settle for anything else. It took me way too long to end the relationship, but I am proud that I did and now I feel free.
Q: Did you struggle with mental illness as a result of the abuse and do you think it can ever be something you’ll be able to put behind you?
A: Sometimes I’m paranoid, get stressed very easily and I’m always jumping to conclusions, but these are things that I am working on. It’s definitely not something you can forget. You see it in the media, you see it in movies and you can’t escape. Simply seeing a scene in a movie can trigger the emotions to come rushing back, but I’m trying to grow from the past, remember what happened and not let it happen ever again.
Q: What are the current effects of the abuse? What is the biggest fear about how the abuse might affect you in the future? What part of your life now has it affected the most?
A: It’s still thinking that I’m not good enough or a situation coming up that reminds me of the past. My biggest fear would be it happening again and me breaking down and not being in the right state of mind to be able to leave knowing that it happened again. Another fear would be for it to happen to someone that I love. The part of my life affected the most is my trust issues and my ability to connect with people on a deep and meaningful level.
Q: What is one hope you have for yourself in the future (regarding the abuse/ability to move on)?
A: To be strong.
Together, we can help to end abuse and dating violence by sharing information and promoting discussions to raise awareness.
Please stay tuned for part three.