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Edited by: Tanmaya Ramprasad

“I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” – Brené Brown

I am a survivor of domestic abuse. For nine years, I was forced to maintain a relationship with my abuser because of the faults of the Canadian legal system. Since I’ve last seen my abuser, they have continued to attempt making contact with me, to which I can seemingly do nothing about, thanks to the continued faults in the Canadian legal system. While many seem to be advocates for domestic abuse, it feels like people do not take things seriously enough until the victim is completely silenced. My voice will not be silenced. This article will share some things that have helped me cope with my past and some tips for those who have not experienced domestic abuse, but who are allies to those who have. 

As a survivor, I’ve learned how to cope with my past and I like to share my insight with anyone who will listen. Some things which have helped me cope are:

  1. Therapy!

Therapy is such a great way to let out all of your feelings without receiving judgement. When struggling with different situations, it feels great to talk things over with an unbiased third party who is able to help you work out your feelings when you feel as though you can’t yourself. Therapy is definitely a form of ‘me’ time which allowed for me to relax, talk freely, and receive unbiased and non-judgemental advice. While therapy and counselling can be expensive, there are many resources in Canada which allow us to anonymously talk to counsellors for free (some will be included at the bottom of this article).

  1. Exercise

Throughout my childhood into my teenage years, I was an avid athlete. I found that playing sports allowed me to take out the aggression I had buried inside of myself, but in a productive way. I now am able to see that my anger as a young child was channelled into sports which kept me busy, allowed me to make new friends, and provide a focus for me. While I no longer am part of any teams, I continue to go for walks, runs, and play one-on-one sports with my close friends. Continuing to focus on the positive things in my life has always been a challenge for me because of the trauma that occurred in my childhood and I find that exercise is an outlet which has greatly benefited me. 

  1. Like-Minded People

Being around like-minded people has helped me tremendously. Other survivors of domestic abuse have given me support and shown me that I am not alone in my struggles. I have friends who support me, because they’ve had similar experiences. Joining support groups or talking to friends open up huge doors for support. Talking to those who have also experienced domestic abuse allowed a sense of normalcy into my world. Because I am so open about my situation, I’ve been able to make bonds with people who have had similar experiences. Hearing others stories and feeling support from other survivors who I’ve interacted with in my everyday life has allowed me to find people who understand myself and my past. Not everyone will understand your struggles and that is okay. Other survivors are not the only people who will listen, but they are able to understand your feelings.

“When I talk about my trauma I am not asking you to carry it or relieve me from it.” – Blythe Baird

This brings me to my next point: how to react when someone tells you about their experience with domestic abuse. There have been many times when I’ve heard phrases that have invalidated my feelings, my past, and my familial life:

“It couldn’t have been that bad.” 

“Well, what did they do to you?”

“It’s over now, so you might as well stop reliving it.”

“Oh, get over it.”

I understand that when talking about one’s trauma, it can be completely overwhelming. If you feel overwhelmed while someone is telling you about their situation, tell them that! It is much better to react with honest words, rather than downplay the situation to make yourself more comfortable. 

Here are some tips for how to react/reply when a friend comes to you to talk about their experience in an abusive situation:

  1. Listen 

A lot of us are working through things ourselves and just want someone to lend an ear. It’s better for some people to work things out out loud, rather than to keep things inside and try processing them alone. 

  1. Do not pressure them to talk about their situation

If someone decides to not tell you how they were abused, it may be because saying things out loud make them relive their past over again, which can be very painful. They may not feel comfortable with you enough to share their whole story; maybe they never will be. It’s not your choice as to when they decide to share their whole story with you, it’s theirs. 

  1. Do not invalidate their feelings

In saying this, do not immediately discuss your past as they are attempting to open up to you. While it is okay to share, it shatters the courage that it may have taken someone to discuss an issue so important to them. Do not talk about how they’re “lucky” because they have not endured the same struggles you have. Let them talk, let them trust you and let them allow you to be an outlet. I have for sure been guilty of sharing too quickly when those who have trusted me have shared their pasts. Learning to listen and validate someone’s feelings is definitely a learning process and you don’t have to be perfect right away!

“You can recognize survivors of abuse by their courage. When silence is so very inviting, they step forward and share their truth so others know they aren’t alone.” – Jeanne McElvaney.

If you are looking for help, reach out. Here are some free call centres which are free and can be super helpful!

Assaulted Women’s Helpline (Ontario): 1-866-863-0511

Victim Support Line (Ontario): 1-888-579-2888

Good 2 Talk ([Ontario] Provides support to post-secondary students): 1-866-925-5454 OR text GOOD2TALKON to 686868

Megan Cambruzzi is a third-year student at Saint Michael's College at the University of Toronto. She is currently pursuing a major in History and a double minor in Sociology and Christianity & Culture. Megan hopes to attend teacher's college after her undergrad is complete and to one day participate in teaching exchanges to travel the world. You can connect with her on Instagram: @megancambruzzi
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